Overlooked groups gain constitutional rights; local leaders react

The devastating reality of Canada’s history has gained national support in a monumental decision that empowered Metis and non-status Indians

The devastating reality of Canada’s history has moved toward gaining national support in a monumental decision that recently brought justice back for two communities that have long since been overlooked.


The Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that more than 600,000 Metis and non-status Indians may gain benefits, legal rights and funding opportunities through federal government jurisdiction on Thursday, April 14th.


“I am ecstatic that the Daniels case has been resolved in our favor, but I am realistic about what that actually means,” said Debra Fisher, Columbia Valley Metis Association (CVMA) president. “I believe that it will take years before any actual steps will be taken and I have grave concerns about what that means for the Métis people. If we are going to be ruled under the Federal Indian Act as it is today; then I would be very concerned. History has taught us that you cannot be under the authority of that system and build healthy communities.”


She added there are still challenges that need to be addressed for both Metis and non-status Indians. However, Ms. Fisher believes it’s too early to know how this ruling could alter future relationships with government in Canada.


“Even as in Metis I know that I am a guest on someone else’s traditional territory, and I am grateful for that,” said Ms. Fisher. “It is really too soon to draw any conclusions as to what this really means.”


Her sentiment of uncertainty has rung true for others to but the decision has largely been met with applause.


“My personal feeling is this is a great milestone that has been achieved, it still does not guarantee any new legislation on the Metis receiving federal or provincial support,” said Deborah Kim Rice, CVMA secretary and treasurer about the ruling by e-mail on April 15th. “Mr. Trudeau has suggested that this ruling will confirm that we will work together as a nation, but there is no definitive answer as to what that means. There will be many meetings and requests put forward by the provincial governing bodies to the federal government before anything will be decided. I just hope that we can move forward fairly quickly so that we don’t lose momentum with the public and federal government.”


However, Ms. Rice believes there’s now an opportunity to begin the process of public engagement with government to make improvements for the CVMA and Metis Nation BC on a national scale.


“It is my belief that the Metis people are looking for additional support with health care, education and equality, so that we can continue to make positive changes in our society and country,” said Ms. Rice.


However, Akisqnuk First Nation chief Lorne Shovar expressed concerns about where funding opportunities through federal government jurisdiction would come from and how it could affect other First Nation communities.


“I didn’t really have a reaction (to the announcement) because I don’t know what the whole fallout is going to be,” said Mr. Shovar. “My understanding is that they’re saying all Metis and all non-status (Indians) are — for lack of a better word — the responsibility of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. It’s a fairly recent ruling and how that’s going to affect everybody, I’m not sure at this point in time.”


He remains eager to learn about how the ruling may affect funding opportunities for all First Nations communities in Canada.


“We haven’t had a council meeting since this ruling came out so I haven’t had a chance to discuss this with my peers yet,” added Mr. Shovar, noting there would likely be a council meeting held within the next fortnight.


“Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has limited funds as it is, and now you’re increasing that population base that they need to fund for considerably, so that’s what I mean when I say we don’t know what the effects are going to be,” he explained.


While Shuswap Indian Band chief Barb Cote was ultimately supportive of the ruling.


“First Nation’s across Canada have worked hard and continue to work hard to gain recognition through our various levels of government,” said Ms. Cote. “This battle was long and well fought, using appropriate process within our legal system. I think the decision speaks highly of the Metis and non-status First Nation people and the judicial and democratic process of Canada. This is a win/win for us all, when our people get fairly treated. I am pleased.”


For more information about the CVMA and its developments, visit their page “Columbia Valley Metis Association” page on Facebook.