(Sources: Sylvia Johnson, president Métis Nation of Alberta Region 6; Pape, Salter, Teillet LLP Barristers and Solicitors; Canadian Encyclopedia; APTN National News; Global News; Active History.ca - History Matters))
The Métis people have been fighting literally and figuratively for status – for identity – since the Constitution Act of 1867, building to the Daniels Case.
“This all hinged on the fact that when the treaties were signed, Riel and all the leaders and everybody from them – Dumont – everybody had said you’ve provided for us on paper. You’ve got our name there that you will make sure that the Métis, who are considered Indians – that’s the big point – are now not considered road allowance people with nothing and a nuisance and there’s been no provision for them. So, what is there for the Métis?’, says Sylvia Johnson, president Métis Nation of Alberta Region 6.
“And Riel, as he said, you can hang me, but you will not kill all the Métis. We might have lost the battle, but we didn’t lose the war. That war will go on and we will see the day – unfortunately, John [A] MacDonald won’t be there to see the day we have a big victory. But it will come, I assure you, it will come. You’ll not get rid of the Métis. You will never wipe them out.”
Métis being left out from what was rightfully theirs, according to the 1899 treaty, has lingered since. But, Harry Daniels, “a big, strong Métis” picked up the pace and appealed to the Supreme Court to answer the question – if the Métis were not Indians, “who are we?” He referred to 85 boxes of documents, saying the Métis people have rights. “These documents say you owe us these rights.”
The reason for going to the Supreme Court was because the lesser courts had denied the Métis, based on the evidence they were presented. More years went by as they dug deeper. Then they went to the Court of Appeal to decide once and for all, whether they were Indians and thus entitled to the rights of the Indian.
“So, they said OK. We put all our chips in – one spin of the roulette wheel. It’s going to the Supreme Court of Canada Appeal Board – six judges – all white – sitting there,” Johnson says. The six judges regarded the 85 boxes of documents and the wording they contained. After considerable deliberation, “Yes, unanimously, they decided we [Métis] are Indians. We are Indians and we are entitled to rights.
Canada’s highest court was asked to rule on three points: that Métis and non-status Indians were “Indians” under section 91(24) of the Constitution Act of 1867; that the federal government had a fiduciary [trust] duty and an obligation to negotiate and consult on their rights. The Court granted the first point, and rejected the final two points because it would be “restating settled law”.
“Under the Constitution Act, there are three status. There always was – Inuit, First Nation and Métis. They always agreed we were part of that. But, we were never given anything – never any status. They even called us a non-profit association and didn’t give us the status of being a nation of people that are Métis.” Johnson admitted there are some “First Nations treaty people” who are not happy with the fact the Métis status is recognized. The reason, she says, is because it is an unknown – not known how it will affect them. She emphasizes, “It’s about what is our rights – our rights in government consultation – in consultation regarding the Métis – consultation regarding industry … There’s all these pipelines. We’ve been saying to them – you have to deal with us.” They disagreed.
Things changed with the Supreme Court ruling – 17 years in the making since 1999, when Henry Daniels and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples first pursued it. On his death in 2004, son, Gabriel, was added as plaintiff to ensure a Métis representative was maintained as plaintiff. The case first went to trial in 2011 – finally making it to the Supreme Court in 2015.
On May 9, a gathering of Métis people of Region 6 and supporters, celebrated the April 14 good news, affecting more than 600,000 Métis and non-status people across Canada, at Riverfront Park. The May 9 date coincided with the date of the North West Rebellion (May 9-12), which culminated with the Battle of Batoche led by Louis Riel in 1885.