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.
January 8, 2013