Youth leaders speak out about Métis rights

Supreme Court
The Supreme Court of Canada

“We can’t make right of the past, we can only make justice in our time,” stated Mitch Case, the Youth Representative for the Provisional Council of the Métis Nation of Ontario (PCMNO) when asked about the recent court cases affecting Métis rights. “Precedent is huge and the Métis need to be recognized. Justice needs to be done and the recent court cases are recognizing what is morally right.”

It has been a big year in the fight for justice. The ongoing litigations for Métis rights in Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba are making a huge impact on the future of the Métis Nation and the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO).

“The recent court cases bring us much closer to finding our rightful place within the Canadian Federation,” said MNO President Gary Lipinski. “It is important for Métis youth to have a solid understanding of the history and development of these cases so that when the time comes they can continue our progress as we have for those before us.”

A great accomplishment in the struggle for Métis rights across the Nation is the recent Manitoba Metis Federation v. Canada decision that favored the Métis. The case which took over 30 years to reach the Supreme Court, established that Canada breached its fiduciary and constitutional obligations owing to the Manitoba Métis by failing to fulfill the lands and benefit they were promised as Aboriginal negotiating partners in Confederation.  These promises are embedded within sections 31 and 32 of the Manitoba Act, 1870 which is part of Canada’s Constitution. The Supreme Court held that the federal government did not act honorably in implementing the constitutional obligation in s. 31 of the Manitoba Act and affirmed that the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) could advance Métis collective claims. 

“The biggest thing is that we are rewriting history,” said Case. “We are writing history the way that it should have been written in the first place. At the heart of it and what is most important, is that we come to understand our history in a better light and are fully aware and proud of our contributions to that history.”

“In the past,” he continued, “our history, contributions and the commitments made to Metis were not fully appreciated and respected, the courts are finally making it right and providing new hope for our rightful place in the future again.”

Still ongoing is Daniels v. Canada. The January 8 ruling by the Federal Court of Canada declared that the federal government has jurisdiction for Métis under s. 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867. The decision stated that the federal government has exclusive legislative authority with respect to “Indians and Lands reserved for the Indians.” The case effectively found that Métis are “Indians” within the meaning of s. 91(24). This decision is a great accomplishment for Métis even though it is currently being appealed by the federal government.

“I am extremely proud of the Métis Nation of Ontario for intervening in the Daniels case to ensure our voice is heard by the courts,” said Jennifer Henry, PCMNO Post-secondary Representative. “This is something we have been fighting for since Louis Riel.”

“As a youth, these cases mean everything to my future and the generations which will follow,” she continued. “The federal government has a duty to consult with our Nation and will hear my voice. Although we may not see the changes happening immediately, the Daniels case and others like it, ensure that the federal government realizes we are here and we are a strong and vibrant Nation.”

The Alberta Métis harvesting rights case R. v. Hirsekorn is also still ongoing. The case dates back to the 2007 cancellation of a Métis harvesting agreement that implemented the Powley decision in Alberta. Following the cancellation of this agreement, the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) proceeded to organize traditional hunts across the province to protest the cancellation. At which time Métis citizen, Mr. Hirsekorn was charged and later convicted for hunting without a license. The case was brought to the Alberta Court of Appeal and the verdict has not yet been released.

“We have lost too many years fighting these issues in court,” stated Henry. “It is now time for the federal government to recognize the Métis Nation and being the process of working together and begin negotiations on the many important issues we face. Only when we work together can we make a positive change and have our rightful place within the Canadian Federation fully appreciated.”