Metis are Indians

Chapter 9 in The Canadian Environment in Political Context explains Indigenous politics in Canada. Standard in similar texts, the umbrella term “Aboriginal” is broken down into Inuit, First Nations, and Metis. The book also provides a chart of important Supreme Court cases that impact Aboriginal-Canada environmental relations. There is a new entry:

Daniels v Canada (Indian Affairs and Northern Development). The short story is that the court determined that “Metis” are Indians in Canada – thereby giving them (potential) land and resource rights. As Indians, Metis are the responsibility of the Federal government.

In this case, the court was asked to rule on 3 things:

  1. that Metis and non-status Indians are “Indians” as defined under the 1867 Constitution
  2. that the federal government has a fiduciary duty to Metis and non-status Indians
  3. that Metis and non-status Indians have the right to be consulted and negotiation with (in terms of things like land, environmental rights, etc.)

Initially, the trial judge (Federal Court of Appeals) granted (1) but used the R. v Powley (2003) case to benchmark which non-status Indians are included.  The court declined (2) and (3).

In October 2015 the Supreme Court heard this case and on April 14th made a ruling. It is now determined that Metis and non-status Indians are Indians under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

What does this mean in practice? It means that roughly 200,000 Metis and 400,000 non-status Aboriginal peoples (those not affiliated with a reserve) will become “Indians” and receive the benefits flowing from such status. Exactly who is Metis or non-status is to be determined on a “case-by-case” basis in the future. So, the court left it undefined.

What did the Supreme Court say about (2) and (3) – they rejected them BUT on the basis that confirming them would be “restating settled law.” This means that once you establish (1) then those Metis and non-status Indians would already have (2) and (3) by virtue of having (1).  Also worth noting, the Supreme Court did not rule that the Powley criteria is the basis for “Metis” – instead it will be determined “case-by-case.”

So this is a big victory for Metis and non-status Indians in Canada. What does it mean for the environment?  It is a bit too soon to tell. But the implication would be that Metis and non-status Indians may have the ability to make some land claims and resource claims. It should also mean that these groups will be involved in consultations on natural resource exploitation and exploitation (like oil and gas out West). Essentially, this case extended the scope of potential actors in the policy process.

For more information, see the CBC and APTN.



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