Métis recognized under Constitution Act
by Phil Ambroziak
Score one for Canada’s Métis people.
At least that’s how La Loche resident and Métis Nation-Saskatchewan area director Chester Herman feels following a recent Federal Court of Canada ruling that states Métis and non-status Indians qualify as “Indians” under the 1867 Constitution Act. The ruling means Canada’s close to 600,000 Métis and non-status Indians can now deal directly with the Crown and qualify for federal benefits.
“I’ve dreamt about this day since I was a kid,” Herman said. “I knew my rights were always there, but I also wanted the federal government to recognize them and now they are. Communities in the North are really going to benefit from this.”
According to reports, aboriginal leaders are hopeful the judgement will provide Métis people with better access to health care, education, hunting, fishing and trapping rights on public lands, as well as off-reserve aboriginals with the right to directly negotiate or enter treaties with the federal government.
“In terms of education, the more Métis people who can earn a proper education means there will be more people who will be ready to move into the job market,” Herman continued. “We can fill more jobs with Métis people – this opens up so many doors for so many people. For example, Gabriel Dumont Institute was only receiving so much in federal funding. Now, it will receive more and be able to compete with some of the other institutions out there.”
Herman also anticipates greater health care funding.
“Even in this community, a lot of elders struggle to go south for their health care needs because they have to pay for it themselves whereas treaty people in the south already had it paid for,” he said. “When the judge sat that gavel down, it changed the whole dynamic of Canada. Métis people from across the country need to register themselves and really take advantage of the benefits this brings.”
Although the ruling did not set out specific financial obligations, benefits or services Ottawa must now extend, the federal government still has an opportunity to appeal the ruling. Whether this happens or not remains to be seen, but Athabasca NDP MLA Buckley Belanger, who is also of Métis descent, did not look at the news with as much enthusiasm as Herman.
“Métis people have always had all the prejudices of being aboriginal, but none of the benefits,” Belanger said. “This could be viewed as a step in the right direction, but how can we ensure it will be positive and meaningful? When I look at the relationship the federal government has with First Nations and other groups on the periphery of mainstream, I don’t see this as a huge accomplishment for us. If that is any indication of how they’ll deal with Métis people, it doesn’t look promising.”
Belanger went on to note the Harper government has backtracked on several First Nations treaty obligations.
“A lot of people don’t seem to recollect history,” he continued. “These are nation-to-nation agreements and, although old, they’re still legal, binding documents. Looking at how the Conservatives have dealt with these documents, I do not have much confidence this recent ruling will result in anything meaningful. Canada’s Métis people still have quite a fight ahead of them.”
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