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THE MÉTIS VICTORY: DANIELS V THE CROWN

I’M ECSTATIC ABOUT THE MÉTIS VICTORY IN THE FEDERAL COURT IN THE CASE OF DANIELS V THE CROWN

Tony Belcourt, Founding President, Native Council of Canada

Yesterday when a reporter asked me for comments about the then pending decision by the Federal Court on the “Daniels” case, I was rather blasé about it. Having gone through 42 years of victory, then setback, in our quest for federal recognition, I have become quite jaundiced about things. Jaundiced, or simply tired of it all.

But when I had the Decision on the screen in front of me and started to tweet and text messages, my hands were trembling. I don’t know if I have ever felt this ecstatic since first coming to Ottawa in 1971 with a mission echoed by our ancestors – get our land back, get our land back!

We, the prairie Métis leaders at the time formed the Native Council of Canada, expressly to gain recognition of the obligations of the federal government to the Métis people – its obligations to regard us as “Indians” within the meaning of 91.24, which sets out that the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction to legislate for “Indians and Lands Reserved for Indians”.

This, we felt, was the only way we could get restorative justice for lands taken away or swindled away from us. This, we felt, was the only way we could gain access to sorely needed health, education and economic development benefits. Benefits in lieu of opening the way for the Government of Canada to bring into Confederation all of the lands of Rupert’s Land… all the territory of the rivers and tributaries that flow into James Bay and Hudson’s Bay and the resources and wealth that came with those territories – a huge land mass stretching from the northern parts of today’s Québec and Ontario and most of present day Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

But despite our many victories, they have regularly been followed by setbacks. We achieved victory in gaining Constitution recognition as one of the Aboriginal Peoples whose Treaty and Aboriginal Rights are “recognized and affirmed” in the Constitution Act, 1982, only to see the Constitutional Conferences that were called to articulate and elaborate what those rights were, come to an end in abject failure later in that decade. We achieved success in negotiating a Métis Nation Accord as an addendum to the “Charlottetown Accord”, only to see that watershed agreement defeated. We gained overwhelming support by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, only to see that report shelved by the Federal Government. We gained victory in R v. Powley, only to see Provinces continue to frustrate or deny our rights to hunt and fish for food. We again achieved an incredible success in the Kelowna Accord, only to see that trashed by the current federal government.

Why then was I blasé yesterday but completely elated today? It’s because I see in writing for the first time, an unequivocal declaration by the Federal Court of Canada that issued the following decision: “that Métis and non-status Indians are ‘Indians’ within the meaning of the expression ‘Indians and lands reserved for Indians’ in s 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867”. And seeing that in print gives me hope once again.

But while I see hope, I also know that waves of discrimination against us will be manifest. I know that the federal government will fuel fears of the consequences of this recognition and that their message will be rampant throughout the media. I especially regret the impending backlash we will experience from some First Nations leaders.

When I first came to Ottawa as the newly elected President of the Native Council of Canada, I sought a meeting with George Manuel, then National Chief of the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations). When we finally sat down for a coffee, George told me that everyone was cautioning him not to meet with me. His Chiefs were against it and especially so were the federal officials. George told me they said that if the Métis were recognized… “well, George, there is a loaf of bread here for you but if the Métis are recognized, then some of that bread will have to go to them.” I said, “George, Ottawa is not a loaf of bread, Ottawa is a bakery!”

It is so true that every time we come near to gaining what are rightfully our entitlements, the First Nations are pitted against us. They are led to believe that anything we gain must be at their expense. As I said to George over 4 decades ago, he, his people and the Métis were not getting their fair share of the bounty reaped by Canada through the Treaties we made with it. We don’t see an equitable return of our taxes that go to our schools or support our continuing education. We, the Métis especially, lack equitable access to health care. We don’t see the kinds of investment in our economic self-sufficiency that is regularly provided to corporations.

In addition there is reason to question why I would be so elated, the reality being that the federal government will almost certainly appeal this decision and it will therefore refuse to take any positive action consistent with it. I’m overjoyed because I have finally seen the day when the mere declaration that the federal government has jurisdiction for Métis has been made and in my soul, I know there is no turning back.

We are victorious today. I celebrate this victory and I toast to all those who have fought to see this day, especially my dear friend, Harry W. Daniels.

Tony Belcourt,
January 8, 2013

Comments (15)

  1. Tyler -

    January 8, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    Thanks for this Tony, is there somewhere we can read the ruling on Daniels v. the crown? Cheers,

  2. Viviane Gray -

    January 8, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    congratulations for this great victory.

  3. Ruth Cuthand -

    January 8, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    Too bad Harry the Dog isn’t still alive to celebrate!

  4. […] We, the prairie Métis leaders at the time formed the Native Council of Canada, expressly to gain recognition of the obligations of the federal government to the Métis people – its obligations to regard us as “Indians” within the meaning of 91.24, which sets out that the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction to legislate for “Indians and Lands Reserved for Indians”.  […]

  5. Denise d -

    January 9, 2013 at 1:55 am

    thank you Mr. Belcourt for your words and wisdom, and i am sure Harry is singing and dancing with all our ancestors who are looking down for the past month and continues with more pride being shown with all peoples today.

  6. Steve loft -

    January 9, 2013 at 2:11 am

    Thanks Tony, for putting this important decision in perspective.

  7. Lynn lavallee -

    January 9, 2013 at 2:27 am

    Miigwetch tOny for the history and insight! And for all the work you have done over the years. We are proud métis! I Share your thoughts about being overwhelmed once hearing the news. I also thought about the negativity that might come from many chiefS and First Nations but we can’t forget, we are all related. All my relations, métis, First Nations nd Inuit alike!

  8. kevin w -

    January 9, 2013 at 11:23 am

    Now is the time to celebrate and watch people live in fear,i hear the groans already.I am a metis from mb and i have my card from 1993 but now that is not RECOGNIZED by the metis federation who issued it to me.What gives, is it more money again in the coffers…help me understand…..

  9. Jason Baerg -

    January 9, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    Thank you for your perspective as well as shining light on your EXPERIENCE Tony. I hope all aboriginal Peoples can come together in solidarity for continued growth and development. We should all celebrate this victory!

  10. jon mac -

    January 9, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Thanks Tony, but please remember that it was CAP and not MNO who won this for all of us aboriginals. Please do not grandstand and try to take that credit–it belongs to Mr. Daniels and CAP.
    MNO continues to deny off reserve people any representation in many parts of Ontario

    • Katherine -

      July 5, 2013 at 9:41 pm

      If you read Tony Belcourt’s response you would have seen read in plain text that he honoured his friend and that f it wasn’t for Harry this probably may not have occurred. But someone had to carry on his fight that equality and it fell upon his friend,my brother. I met and knew Harry Daniels and he was a incredible man,why can you not just join in the celebration.. After all, Tony brought it to fruition. I celebrate this amazing moment and our progress.

  11. Del Majore -

    January 19, 2013 at 9:31 am

    Thank you tony for this and all the work you’ve done, through the years and recently…representing metis nation very well in media interviews!

  12. canadian -

    January 20, 2013 at 6:00 am

    hey, WE ARE CANADIAN FIRST , METIS SECOND. WE SPEND SO MUCH TIME WAXING PHILOSOPHICALLY OVER OUR NATIVE IDENTITY THAT WE FORGET ALL ABOUT CANADA. i AM METIS AND DIRECTLY RELATED TO METIS “ROYALTY” . bUT I DO NOT, IN ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM, THINK THAT I SHOULD HAVE ANY RIGHTS OVER AND ABOVE ANY OTHER CANADIAN.
    I GUESS YOU CAN’T BLAME METIS FOR WANTING STATUS IF THE “FIRST NATIONS” HAVE IT. MANY OF THEM ARE WHITER THAN HOSPTIAL SHEETS…SO WHY SHOULDN’T WE HAVE IT. BUT, THEN IF WE HAVE IT (STATUS), THEN WHY SHOULDN’T EVERY CANADIAN HAVE IT.
    WE’VE GOT TO LIVE IN THE REAL WORLD…THIS COURT CASE ISN’T A VICTORY… IT’S A SHAME..JUST MORE PROOF OF THE IDIOCY OF THE COURT AT TIMES. THIS DECISION, ALONG WITH ANY OTHER QUEST FOR SPECIAL RIGHTS ONLY SERVES TO FURTHER ALIENATE AND ISOLATE US FROM THE REST OF CANADA. rIEL SPOKE FOR HIS ERA. THAT WORLD DOES NOT EXIST ANYMORE.
    HISTORY IS HISTORY PEOPLE …..MOVE ON AND START LIVING IN THIS CENTURY!

  13. […] former founding President of both the Native Council of Canada and the Métis Nation of Ontario, Tony Belcourt, acknowledged in his recent article that there is little difference between non-Status Indians and […]

    • Guadalupe -

      May 9, 2014 at 4:19 pm

      I would like to know if there is interest in broeiandng this class action suit to other provinces and territories. As we know, Manitoba was pretty active in removing Aboriginal children from their homes. Does anyone know if there is anything going on in Manitoba?