A federal court ruling asserting that Métis and non-status aboriginals fall under federal jurisdiction is a landmark decision with far-reaching implications.
The ruling raises the possibility that Ottawa must accept responsibility for between 200,000 and 400,000 Canadians who self-identify as Métis, considering their rights as Indians within the constitution.
People who have mixed native and non-native ancestry are trying to sort out what the ruling may mean.
“It takes you out of limbo,” said Chris Phillips, executive director of the Interior Indian Friendship Centre. “Yes, they are protected, barring an appeal, but what is that and how far does it extend?”
People who live off-reserve have never had access to the social supports provided to full-blooded natives, he said. In Kamloops, an estimated 70 per cent of people with aboriginal ancestry are in that category.
“There are half a million people who never will live on a reserve and there’s never been anything for them,” Phillips said. “There’s this vacuum.”
Philips said the federal government is likely to appeal the decision.
“At the very least, you know they’re going to seek clarification on points,” said Phillips, executive director of the Interior Indian Friendship Centre. “Barring an appeal, it just says that, by definition, these people are protected.”
It could take a decade before the ruling is borne out in policy and programs if it stands, Phillips said.
Deborah Canada, executive director of the Métis Commission for Children and Families of B.C., sees the symbolic value of the ruling but wonders about the broader implications for her culture.
Metis have a long, proud history but only recently has that identity galvanized in B.C. into collective organization in the form of Métis Nation B.C.
“This is such a long, long, long struggle,” said Canada, who comes from mixed Cree ancestry on the Prairies. “I’m not sure how Métis people feel about this yet. I’ve grown up as Metis all my life and being called a Metis person, what does that really mean?”
“My concern is around culture, rituals, language and way of life,” she said. “Once we’re in that category, we have no distinction. Even within First Nations, people are more than that and have different traditions, but government has placed us into this one pot.”
She sees more of an opportunity for Métis people to choose who they want to affiliate with.