OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada says an Alberta law which revokes Métis settlement membership for people who also hold Indian status does not violate the Charter of Rights.
In a 9-0 decision, the court rules against a group of Alberta Métis who registered as status Indians to gain health benefits.
The province then revoked their formal membership in the Métis community of Peavine in accordance with the Métis Settlement Act, which says status Indians cannot also be members of a Métis settlement.
They sued, saying the act violated their rights, and won at the provincial Court of Appeal.
However, the Supreme Court overturned that decision, saying the settlement act is actually protected by the Charter of Rights.
Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin writes that the law creates a supportive program for the Métis, something which is protected by the charter.
“I conclude that the exclusion from membership in any Métis settlement, including the Peavine Settlement, of Métis who are also status Indians serves and advances the object of the ameliorative program,” she wrote.
“It corresponds to the historic and social distinction between the Metis and Indians, furthers realization of the object of enhancing Metis identity, culture and governance, and respects the role of the Metis in defining themselves as a people.”
Because of this, she concluded, the settlement act doesn’t constitute discrimination.
Metis are people of mixed Indian and European decent. The Metis grew in numbers during the 18th century fur trade and now number more than 400,000, mainly in Western Canada.
The Metis National Council applauded the ruling, saying it further affirms the recognition of Metis as a distinct rights-bearing Aboriginal people.
Council President Clement Chartier said it also ensures that Metis Settlements in Alberta will continue to be protected and controlled by Metis. The settlements are the only recognized Metis Nation land base in Canada.
“In this decision, the Supreme Court acknowledges the longstanding struggle of the Metis Nation in Canada to have our rights and interests recognized by governments, including, the recognition of Metis lands,” Chartier said in a release.
Chartier said the ruling also recognizes that the Metis have the right to exclude other Aboriginal peoples in defining who they are and in their negotiations with governments.