OTTAWA – The Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously ruled that Metis and non-status Indians are “Indians” under the Constitution.
“Non-status Indians and Metis are ‘Indians’ under (the Constitution) and it is the federal government to whom they can turn,” the unanimous 9-0 ruling said.
The high court was also asked to rule on whether the federal government has the same responsibility to them as to status Indians and Inuit.
The court said there was no need to rule on whether the federal government has a fiduciary duty to Metis and non-status Indians as Aboriginal Peoples or that they have a right to be consulted by the government on their rights and needs.
“It was already well established in Canadian law that the federal government was in a fiduciary relationship with Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples and that the federal government had a duty to consult and negotiate with them when their rights were engaged,” said Justice Rosalie Abella, writing for the court.
“Restating this in declarations would be of no practical utility.”
The long-awaited ruling will have an impact on the relationship between the federal government and 600,000 Metis and off-reserve Indians across the country.
“The constitutional changes, the apologies for historic wrongs, a growing appreciation that aboriginal and non-aboriginal people are partners in Confederation . . . all indicate that reconciliation with all of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples is Parliament’s goal,” Abella wrote.
Abella cited the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
A cheer arose from a crowd in the packed foyer of the Supreme Court as the decision was announced.
The government considered Metis to be Indians as far back as 1818 and the notion was upheld after Confederation, Abella wrote in a ruling that offered a sweeping review of government inquiries and studies of aboriginal relations dating back decades.
“Both federal and provincial governments have, alternately, denied having legislative authority over non-status Indians and Metis,” the ruling said.
“This results in these indigenous communities being in a jurisdictional wasteland with significant and obvious disadvantaging consequences,” it added, which included depriving them of programs, services and other government benefits.
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples went to court in 1999 to allege discrimination because they were not considered “Indians” under the Constitution.