Optimism voiced about the future for aboriginal groups

Métis organization flooded with inquiries from people looking to secure citizenship

Metis Nation of B.C. president Bruce Dumont.

In British Columbia, roughly 60,000 residents self-identify as Métis, according to census information.

Far fewer hold registered citizenship cards with the Métis Nation of B.C., a provincial section of the Métis National Council.

That number is expected to rise soon, after the Supreme Court that ruled Canada’s estimated 200,000 Métis and 400,000 non-status Indians are indeed “Indians” under the Constitution Act and therefore, fall under federal jurisdiction.

Abbotsford-based Métis Nation has issued about 8,000 citizenship cards since it began the process in 2005, including about 500 in Greater Victoria.

In the first week following the January court decision, their office received about 1,400 phone calls and emails from people inquiring about officially registering their heritage.

“We’ve mailed out about 500 information packages,” said Laurel Katernick, director of registry for Métis Nation.

The standard of living for Métis people in Greater Victoria runs the spectrum, from poverty to relative affluence, not unlike the non-aboriginal community.

The majority don’t hunt or fish for sustenance, or try to secure the right to cut and sell timber off Crown lands.

“I think (Métis) people living here in Victoria are probably around average for the most part,” said Bruce Dumont, president of Métis Nation of B.C. and a resident of Highlands. “If you take into account the aggregation, you would see we’re average by social standards.”

At the same time, he said, many Métis in B.C. and Canada do not have health care, are under-educated or live in inappropriate housing.

In his judgment, Justice Michael Phelan wrote, “The recognition of Métis and non-status Indians as Indians under section 91(24) should accord a further level of respect and reconciliation by removing the constitutional uncertainty surrounding these groups.”

While there has been much speculation over the potential cost of placing 600,000 more people under the responsibility of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Phelan’s judgment did not lay out any specific terms of added financial responsibility.

The federal government currently provides funding for provincial and national organizations representing Metis and non-status Indians and the programs they run, but not for individuals or communities.

“It’s a common fear that it’s going to cost the government a lot of money,” Dumont said.

“I think that’s way ballooned out of proportion. You’re not going to have to support us, we’re very independent.”

He foresees positive effects flowing from the decision, despite the fact the government is widely expected to appeal the ruling.

“I can see the benefits happening a few years down the road, but it’s premature to say. We waited this long, we can wait a couple more years. I’m excited for the whole thing and excited for our people.”

The significance of the ruling to him is in the potential for negotiating a more defined right to hunt and fish for sustenance – similar to rights outlined in First Nations treaties – and enhancing educational opportunities.

Paul Lacerte, executive director of the B.C. Association of Native Friendship Centres in Victoria, sees Phelan’s lack of direction to the federal government in his decision as rather favourable to the aboriginal community, since it opens the door for negotiations on a range of issues.

The timing of the decision alongside the Idle No More movement, which aims to halt what it calls “the erosion of treaty and indigenous rights,” is a sign that the playing field and the role of aboriginal people in Canada are starting to be redefined, Lacerte said.

“My hope is that all of this leads to poverty reduction and strength building,” he said.

People comprising the two aboriginal groups are frequently caught in a kind of jurisdictional no-man’s land, with the provinces and the federal government deferring responsibility to the other in terms of program delivery.

While the implications, financial or otherwise, of Phelan’s judgment may not be known for some time, Dumont appreciates the fact that Métis and non-status Indian people have achieved at least this level of recognition.

“It’s a huge step forward,” he said. “There’s a lot of excitement generated for finally being recognized.”

editor@vicnews.com

Who is aboriginal?

• The Constitution Act of 1982 defines aboriginal peoples as “including the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.”

• Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada defines the term “Indian” as an individual or groups in one of those three categories. It also states, “Indians in Canada are often referred to as: Status Indians, non-Status Indians and Treaty Indians.”

• Métis peoples are individuals with mixed aboriginal and European heritage who can trace their familial routes back to original Métis settlements in Central Canada, primarily in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Just Posted

Sooke woman is ‘black and blue’ after being pushed off 40-foot cliff at Thetis Lake

West Shore RCMP looking for witnesses as investigation continues

Mom who lost son to brain tumour in March joins the 24th annual Brain Tumour Walk

The Brain Tumour Walk takes place at the University of Victoria on Sunday, May 26

Throwback Thursday: Shamrocks revisit the 1950s with new uniforms

Victoria team introduces its new white jersey for the 2019 70th anniversary season

Comic Con announces winning artist in $500 ViGuy competition

Van Isle Comic Con announce judges’ award winner, People’s Choice voting now open

Forbes Group proposes a new medical clinic for Sooke

Four doctors will have space adjacent to a new pharmacy

VIDEO: Journey of SD62 Aboriginal graduates recognized at ceremony

‘Enriching and empowering’ ceremony encourages students to hold onto their identities

Greater Victoria wanted list for the week of May 21

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Were you satisfied with the Game of Thrones series finale?

Millions gathered in front of their televisions Sunday night to watch the… Continue reading

CMHC defends mortgage stress test changes amid calls for loosening rules

Uninsured borrowers must now show they could service their mortgage if rates rose two per cent

Brewpub offers ‘boat valet’ for paddlers during Surfrider celebration tonight

Free ‘Surf Formal’ evening features a local art auction, door prizes, live music

Thunderstorms to bring heavy rain, risk of flash floods in the southern Interior

Ten to 30 millimetres of rain to fall over the early weekend

Building a close-knit community in Sooke

Knit 2 Purl Together a community event

Unbe-leaf-able: Agassiz man finds more than 200 four-leaf clovers in a month

Walt Hardinge has found more than 219 four-or-more leaf clovers this spring alone

Crews fight fire with fire to keep blaze from northern Alberta town

The wildfire now covers some 920 square kilometres

Most Read