Métis Nation of Ontario commemorates 20th anniversary of landmark Powley Decision
Celebratory events and educational initiatives mark two decades of historic legal victory for Métis rights
[Sault Ste. Marie, ONTARIO, September 19, 2023] Today marks the 20th anniversary of the landmark Powley Decision, a pivotal moment in Canadian legal history for the Métis Nation. In 2003, the unanimous Supreme Court ruling in R v. Powley cemented a watershed victory for Métis rights recognition. In honour of this historic milestone, the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) is leading a week-long celebration.
Festivities kicked off on September 16th in Sault Ste. Marie with the premiere of the new documentary Hunt for Justice: The Powley Story. This powerful film by renowned Métis filmmaker Matt LeMay of Indigenous Geographic captures the 10-year legal battle that ultimately led to the groundbreaking 2003 decision. It all began when two MNO citizens – a father and son, Steve and Roddy Powley—faced charges for hunting a moose to feed their family near Sault Ste. Marie. With support from the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO), the Powleys courageously defended themselves in court, ultimately propelling the case to the Supreme Court of Canada. The impacts of the Court’s decision continue to resonate today for Métis people.
Other events commemorating Powley Day included an exclusive screening in Ottawa on September 18 and a public online screening accessible via Facebook and YouTube, which is premiering at 6pm ET on September 19th. Additionally, various community events are happening across the regions. All Ontarians are encouraged to learn more about Métis history and rights recognition by watching the film.
Throughout the Powley’s decade-long “Hunt for Justice,” a total of 14 judges resolutely affirmed the existence of a rights-bearing historic Métis community in the Sault Ste. Marie region of Ontario, underscoring the community’s inherent right to hunt, as protected by Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
Hunt for Justice: The Powley Story offers an evocative portrayal of the Powley case, seamlessly blending archival footage and poignant interviews with Steve Powley and other family members. Enhanced by research and illuminating commentary from trial judges, contemporary leaders, and esteemed experts involved in the case, the documentary provides the definitive account of this historic legal battle. The film also delves into the historical marginalization of Métis communities and highlights the far-reaching impact of the decision, which established a legal framework for recognizing constitutionally protected Métis rights and laid the groundwork for full Métis self-government.
In 2017, after more than a decade of collaborative research, this legal framework, dubbed the “Powley Test,” allowed the MNO to work collaboratively with the Ontario government to conduct historical research on the unique history and development of Métis communities in Ontario. Through this research, the MNO and Ontario government identified and recognized seven historic, rights-bearing Métis communities in Ontario that met the legal requirements set out by the Supreme Court.
The MNO, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, represents the descendants of those seven historic Métis communities in Ontario and descendants of historic Métis communities in western Canada now living within Ontario. Thanks to the Powley Decision, these communities are collectively recognized as holding rights, interests, and outstanding claims protected by Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, including the inherent right of self-government.
Later this year, the Historic Sault Ste. Marie Métis Council will unveil a permanent exhibit at the Sault Métis Cultural Centre, featuring artefacts including Steve Powley’s hat, sash, and hunting notebook; the original copy of the Powley decision; and the hide from the first moose harvested by the Métis community after the 2003 ruling. The Government of Canada provided nearly $200,000 from the Museum Assistance Program – Indigenous Heritage Grant to help finance both the documentary and exhibit.
“This year we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of the unanimous Supreme Court decision in R v. Powley and the 30th anniversary of the MNO’s founding. This new documentary tells that incredible story, highlighting the role that the Powley family and broader Métis community in Sault Ste. Marie played in finally having Canada recognize Métis rights. It illustrates how the Powley victory in 2003 laid the groundwork for many of the remarkable strides our government has made in our long, hard-fought battle for Métis rights recognition and self-governance.
For the last 20 years, we’ve been doing the heavy lifting to implement Powley, as we work towards full Self-Government Recognition in this next phase of advancing our rights. This year, we signed an agreement with Canada that formally recognizes the MNO as a Métis government and the corresponding legislation, Bill C-53, is currently working its way through parliament.
We now stand on the cusp of turning the dreams of our Métis ancestors into reality. We look forward to Bill C-53 advancing through Committee and to the Senate this Fall and receiving Royal Assent to become law. Instead of being known as the ‘forgotten people,’ the Métis will finally be recognized as an equal order of government alongside other self-governing First Nations and Inuit.”
– Margaret Froh, MNO President
“The Sault Ste. Marie Métis community is extremely proud to be the home of the landmark Powley Decision recognizing the existence of a historic Métis community with constitutionally protected rights. With Métis denialism on the rise, it is more important than ever to tell our stories, affirm our ways of life and celebrate how far we have come in advancing Métis rights and self-government. Every Métis citizen, especially our youth, should watch this documentary and take pride in the determination and resilience of our communities. The Powley story is an incredible testament to what we can achieve together regardless of obstacles we encounter. Our Métis communities in Sault Ste. Marie and across Ontario are strong, and we aren’t going anywhere.”
– Mitch Case, MNO Region 4 Councillor
About the MNO
In 1993, the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) was established through the will of Métis people and their communities coming together throughout Ontario to create a Métis-specific, democratic, province-wide governance structure. The MNO represents and advocates on behalf of its citizens who are rights-bearing members of Métis communities that collectively hold rights, interests, and outstanding claims protected by Sections 25 and 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, including, but not limited to, the right of self-government. Ontario is home to the 2003 Powley decision, in which the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the existence of the Métis right to harvest for food that is protected by Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution. Powley was—and remains—the only Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) decision affirming Métis rights protected by Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.