Federal court ruling on Métis rights applauded

Could ease access to government programs: NunatuKavut president

Published on April 21, 2014
NunatuKavut president Todd Russell

A Federal Court of Appeal decision last week to mostly uphold a previous ruling on the federal government’s responsibilities to off-reserve aboriginal people is being applauded by a Labrador Métis group

The Appeal Court upheld part of last year’s federal court decision that said Métis and non-status Indians should in fact be recognized as Indians under the Constitution.

In the case of non-status Indians, the Appeal Court ruled recognition should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

However, the Appeals Court upheld the previous decision concerning Métis rights.

“It was a victory,” said Nunatukavut President Todd Russell, noting evidence was presented in the original trial specific to the people of NunatuKavut. “This is a very positive decision, and I think that with each step in the legal process — first at the trial level and now at the Appeal Court level — more clarity is being provided and the legal case is becoming more defined.”

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and multiple Métis and non-status Indians brought the original case to court in 1999. That case was also known as the Daniels decision, named after Métis leader and former Congress of Aboriginal Peoples president Harry Daniels, who died in 2004.

NunatuKavut is among those groups contending the federal government has unfairly denied its members access to programs other aboriginal people can avail of.

“We would hope that the federal government would take the direction of the court and start negotiations on things like non-insured health benefits, post-secondary student support, and on processes like land claims,” said Russell.

The people of NunatuKavut have been attempting to settle a land claim issue with the federal government for 23 years. Russell believes an agreement with government on that land claim is inevitable.

The federal government may still choose to take a further appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. A spokeswoman for the office of Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt told The Canadian Press it would review the appeal court’s decision to determine the next step government will take.

“We would hope that the federal government will say, ‘Listen, we have the clarity we require. We will live up to our responsibilities and we will start to work on a framework for negotiations.’ That’s where we want to be,” said Russell.