Dale Bass, Kamloops This Week
The texts and emails starting arriving early Thursday of last week for Jeannie Cardinal, thanks to a group of jurists in Ottawa who confirmed the federal government has a responsibility for Métis and non-status Indians in Canada.
“This is a good day,” the executive director of Kamloops’ White Buffalo Aboriginal and Metis Health Society said of the landmark ruling.
“I’ve had a lot of emails and texts from elders who say they want to cry.“
Thursday’s unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada ended a 17-year legal journey for Métis and non-status Indians, one begun in 1999 by Harry Daniels, then-president of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP), along with Leah Gardner, a non-status Anishinaabe woman, and Terry Joudrey, a non-status Mi’kmaq man.
Daniels died 12 years ago.
They had argued that with neither provincial nor federal governments accepting jurisdiction over their communities, they had fallen through the cracks and were not receiving proper education, health care or social services.
The case finally went to trial in 2011 and saw the federal court declare they fall under federal jurisdiction and have the right to negotiate access to federal programs and services.
Following a federal government appeal of the ruling, the lower court’s decision was upheld for Métis, but not for non-status Indians.
The CAP appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada and a dozen intervenors, including provincial governments and other aboriginal organizations, became involved.
The federal government’s position was the Constitution did not intend Métis to be part of section 91(24) of that document, the section that spells out that Indians are its exclusive jurisdiction.
Cardinal said the ruling gives the two communities access to education, land claims and hunting rights, all details that will need to be resolved in coming months.
In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed to work alongside both communities moving forward.
“Now we can walk together with Métis pride we’ve always had in our hearts,” Cardinal said, noting Métis were the most disadvantaged of the aboriginal population.
“Now we actually have a place.”
The process for someone to be identified as a Métis or non-status Indian is detailed and requires genealogical documentation linking a person to aboriginal ties. Most people look for linkage to the Red River area of Manitoba, site of the 1869 rebellion led by Métis leader Louis Riel, but there are many other Métis with links not associated with that part of the country, Cardinal said, so a process will be required to help confirm their status.
She suggested the best sources of information for Métis in the Kamloops area would be the B.C. Métis Federation (info@BCMetis.com, 1-604-638-7220) or the Métis Nation B.C. (1-800-940-1150).
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-888-997-9927.