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Metis in Canada - Statement


Hon. Serge Joyal: Honourable senators, last Friday, September 19, will remain a landmark day in the history of Aboriginal peoples of Canada. The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision of nine judges, recognized that the Metis people are a distinct Aboriginal nation with the constitutional right to hunt for food.

For the first time, 21 years after the proclamation of the new Constitution in 1982, the 250 Metis communities that exist in Ontario, the Prairies, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, representing approximately 300,000 Metis, were recognized as being on par with the other Aboriginal people. In other words, there is no hierarchy of Aboriginal rights. Native Indian people, Metis people, and Inuit people stand together at par.

While the judgment recognized specifically the Metis constitutional hunting rights for food near Sault Ste. Marie, the unanimous court decision does not impose any limits on future rights Metis can claim, be it on lands, natural resources or self- government.

This is a major breakthrough that will change Canadian history. Indeed, the court established three criteria to define who has the right to claim to be recognized as a Metis.

[Translation]

Relegated so long to historical limbo, and seen as neither wholly Aboriginal nor wholly European in ancestry, the Metis were in a way the pariahs of our founding peoples.

Rejected by both groups, and condemned to cultural anonymity, their rebellion against the government in the 19th century, under Louis Riel, in order to obtain recognition of their right to land on which to live and to hunt, could not be resolved by an appeal to ancestral rights or by sheer force.

[English]

Today, Metis people, those descendents of mixed blood — Indians and French explorers or Scottish fur traders or others — are full, distinctive, rights-bearing people. Their integral practices are entitled to constitutional protection. When we included the Metis in 1982 in the Constitution as a distinctive Aboriginal people, we were looking to set the framework for bringing back to them their identity and pride and the opportunity to play a significant role in the diverse Canadian society.

Let us hail Mr. Steve Powley, a Metis from Sault Ste. Marie, who fought in court for 10 years for the rights of his people against the Governments of Canada, Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. All these governments intervened in the Supreme Court case to deny the Metis their full constitutional protection, even though section 35 of the Constitution gave them full recognition as Aboriginal people.

This decision opens a new chapter in Canadian history — a positive one — that should be characterized, let us hope, by negotiation in good faith, resolution of legitimate claims and the full exercise by the federal government of its fiduciary role of the constitutional rights of the Metis in Canada.