by EVAN MATTHEWS
In April 2016, The Supreme Court of Canada ruled to extend the rights of Métis and “non-status Indians”, almost 150 years after the constitution was signed.
It’s a cause for celebration.
Basically, the 1867 Indian Act excluded certain groups of Aboriginal people, but with the Supreme Court’s ruling, now includes Métis and non-status Indians.
By a unanimous vote of 9-0, 600,000 Canadians who are considered to be Métis and non-status Indians were extended rights, meaning they are now the responsibility of the Federal Government, not the provinces’.
It reads like levels government were debating, “They’re you’re problem. No they’re you’re problem,” which is horrible given we’re talking about people and their lives.
But it’s been the reality for a lot of years. This ruling, for example, took 15 years.
It’s being said that the Supreme Court’s ruling gives non-status and Métis people a starting point to negotiate rights, treaties, services and benefits with the Federal Government.
Prime Minister Trudeau said at the time, “There is a lot of reflection and studying on how we move forward… This is a landmark ruling that will have broad consequences and impact across the country. We as a government have positioned ourselves in a way that is focused on renewing the relationship with Indigenous Peoples across this country. The path forward will be together.”
But there is still so much uncertainty. How will we move forward together? What does it mean to say Métis and non-status Indians are now the responsibility of the Federal Government?
It’s being said that the Supreme Court’s ruling gives non-status and Métis people a starting point to negotiate rights, treaties, services and benefits with the Federal Government – Evan Matthews, Editor
Canada’s Constitution divides power between levels of government.
The Federal Government assumes power for “bigger” items, items that affect everyone, like banking, criminal law and military, for examples.
And though the provincial governments are responsible for the funding for social programming, infrastructure, property, civil rights, setting up municipalities, etc., for whatever reason, “Indians and Land Reserved for Indians” falls back onto the Federal Government.
It’s a job of the Federal Government to provide land to “Indians”, as well as to provide services like education, healthcare and social services normally provided by a province.
Ultimately this means you have provincial systems tending to the needs of Indigenous peoples living off-reserve, and federal systems focused on those living on-reserve.
At this point, it becomes clear that your “status” as an Indian becomes important because it factors into which government agency a person works with, whether it be provincial or federal.
“Status-Indians” is a legal definition and can only be held by native peoples who fit the definition of “Indian” described in the Indian Act. Inuit people were added to the group defined as “Indians” by the Indian Act, later.
Non-status Indians were not considered “Indians” under the Indian Act — until this landmark ruling — but they have always been Aboriginal Peoples. In many cases, situations like an “Indian” woman marrying a non-Indian man, or moving off-reserve, could mean losing one’s “Status”.
The Métis peoples, people of a mixed Indigenous and Euro-American ancestry, are another group of Aboriginal peoples, but were not considered “Indians” under the Indian Act.
The Federal Government’s decision last week changes this, to include all Aboriginal peoples as responsibility of the Federal Government on many of the aforementioned areas (education, healthcare and social services).
However, the decision leaves a lot of questions unanswered.
For example, non-status Indians and Métis are still not governed by the Indian Act, they did not become “Status-Indians”, nor do they suddenly have the right to live on-reserve, nor does it ensure new funding opportunities for non-status and Métis people.
The change in designation is simply more inclusive to non-status and Métis people, while giving these groups a starting point to negotiate rights, treaties, services and benefits with the Federal Government.
Though the Supreme Court ruling is a step in the right direction, there is much work to be done in the name of Truth and Reconciliation.
It is our job to make sure the Trudeau Government, and the rest Canada, walks the path forward, together, with its Indigenous peoples.
The Goat is working to find local people willing to share their stories about how they’ve been affected, and what the change means to them.
Editor’s note: In The Rocky Mountain Goat’s Jan. 26 issue, the newspaper published an editorial called, Creating a more inclusive Canada. The editorial stated the Supreme Court of Canada had ruled to extend the rights of Métis and non-status Indians on Jan. 19, 2017. While the Supreme Court did rule in the favour of Métis and non-status Indians, the decision was actually made in April 2016. The remainder of the editorial is accurate. We apologize for the error.