Thank you to West Coast Native News for
republishing this article on their website.
In January of this year, it was reported that the Federal Court ruled that 200,000 Métis and 400,000 non-status Indians in Canada were “Indians” under Section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, and therefore fell under federal jurisdiction. The decision was reminiscent of the Supreme Court ruling in 1939 where the court determined that Canada’s Inuit fell under the federal government’s legal authority.
Prior to the court decision in January, the provincial governments and the federal government oftentimes argued that Métis and non-status Indians were the jurisdiction of the other. But the battle isn’t won by any stretch of the imagination as the Harper government appealed the decision within weeks on the basis that the decision raised complex legal issues for the federal government. According to the Harper government, there are currently 840,300 registered status Indians as of 2009. The recent court decision would nearly double the number of registered Indians (status, non-status,and Métis) that would fall under their auspices.
But the matter of the Métis standing is something that the Harper Government may be able to have stricken from the decision on the basis that since 1885, the provincial and federal governments have used a simple way to identify who is and is not an Indian when they are Métis. After the Northwest Rebellion (led by Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont and the defeat of the Métis at Batoche (located in what is now called the province of Saskatchewan), Sir John A. MacDonald decided that the only way to determine who was and wasn’t an Indian among the Métis was to use this standard:
“If they are Indians, they go with the tribe; if they are half-breeds they are whites.”
Unfortunately, discrimination against First Nations people was relentless, and the moniker of “half-breed” led who were Métis to either deny their heritage, or attempt to blend in with non-natives to lessen the possibility of discrimination and attacks.
So where does this leave the Métis people in Canada? Back in the middle between the provincial and federal governments, with each of them working hard to abdicate responsibility to the other. At this point, it’s difficult to say what the final decision will be from the Supreme Court and it’s even more difficult to say what the fall-out is going to be from all of this.