The Daniels Ruling

(Vancouver, BC) Canadians may recall that the Daniels Case was initiated by the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and Harry Daniels back in 1999. On January 8, 2013, the Federal court declared both Métis and non status Indians as “Indians” under a section of the Constitution.

Instead of  reconciling with Canada’s Métis peoples and negotiating a place for Métis across Canada as partners in Confederation, the government appealed the Federal court decision for Métis and non-status Indians.

Next we heard that the Federal Court of Appeal ruled to sustain the Métis ruling while non status cases would have to be dealt with on a case by case basis. The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples — which represents both non-status Indians and Métis — appealed that ruling, as did the federal government.

Now Canadians woke up last week to big news that the nationally significant Daniels case was accepted by the Supreme Court of Canada, the highest court in Canada.

Step back from the legal proceedings and Canadians clearly witness that federal government cynicism and denial has been appalling on the entire Métis file. Recent events like the Senate Standing Committee on Métis identity, the Eyford report on industry consultation, the recent human rights challenge initiated by the BC Métis Federation and now the acceptance of the Daniels case by the Supreme court all reflect a re-examination of the old ways of doing things and a shift to respect a new narrative in historic Métis- Canadian relations. A new mindset of justice and fairness.

Governments, for their part, stick to outright denial or narrow cynical tropes. By appealing to perceived budgetary or legal challenges, they divert criticism and thereby neglect their fiduciary obligation to Canada’s Métis peoples.

As example, they endlessly repeat inconsistent narrow arguments about saving money for taxpayers but then they drag out legal court battles for decades, throwing taxpayers money away. In effect, they force Métis to waste resources that could be used to build community capacity.

They encourage adversarial approaches that divide people, creating in-groups and out-groups and this hinders reconciliation.

There have been many court cases affirming First Nations and Métis centrality in this country, among the latest being the Daniels ruling.  Yet, as John Ralston Saul recently reminded Canadians in his recent book, the Comeback,  governments and the legal profession in general and much of the private sector have gone on acting as if Court decisions simply did not happen.

The Métis National Council, for its part, has apparently been manoeuvring by preserve its fledgling status and control.

Of interest, Steve Rennie explained last week in the media that The Métis National Council, which is an intervener to the Daniels case, “wanted the federal government to drop its appeal and start working out an agreement with the Métis people. But not all Métis people.”

Instead of pressing governments in this important time to respect the many ways of being Métis across Canada as  founding treaty peoples with inherent land rights and self government, the Métis National Council tolerates further federal inaction that includes a lack of integrated policies across Canada for all Métis. In political tune with his political masters at the federal level,  the Métis National Council reduces the discussion to narrow “fiscal” arguments based on fear, reaction, intolerance and self interest that undermine the public good of Métis and all Canadians. 

Both the federal government and the MNC have apparently not been transparent and accountable to Métis and to Canadians. Reporter Mark Elias in the First Nations Drum recently reminded us that the Métis National Council was the subject of an audit revealing “very bad management practices and almost non-existent financial controls ” 

The federal government apparently signed a renewed protocol and a new governance and financial accountability accord with the MNC in 2013. Under the tutelage of the federal government department,this deal is obviously not serving Métis well. As we have learned, “Officials in the minister’s office have repeatedly said the matters raised in the audits have already been dealt with through the signing in April 2013 of a renewed Métis protocol and a new governance and financial accountability accord. ”

Under the new accord, MNC agreed to post financial information on its website and develop and make public its strategic and annual operational plans. Aboriginal Affairs is supposed to post the MNC’s audited financial statements on its website. So far, reporter Elias explains that neither MNC nor the AANDC have posted any of those documents online. 

Elias further reminds us that “This is the same AANDC that has gone to certain lengths by passing the First Nations Accountability Act, forcing First Nations and Aboriginal organizations to publicly post their financial records online. The controversial bill was passed without any consultations between the government and Aboriginal peoples. The Harper government’s Minister insists this type of accountability is necessary, yet also insists that no investigation is necessary while there are obvious possibilities of crimes committed.”

Incredibly, Chartier in the midst of these difficulties, writes to Prime Minister Harper on April 23 of this year citing narrow fiscal arguments. 

Reporter Steve Rennie explains that The Canadian Press obtained a copy of Chartier’s April 23 letter to Harper under the Access to Information Act. In it, Chartier warns that broadening the definition to include people from eastern Canada could result in a huge surge in people claiming to be Métis. He likened it to what happened when the government established a new First Nation in Newfoundland, the Qalipu Mi’kmaq, and promptly received many more membership applications than anyone had expected.

In Chartiers words, “Given the egregious situation in Newfoundland re: Qalipu Mi’kmaq, one can only imagine the disastrous fiscal consequences if the long-standing claims of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples on Métis identification had been upheld by the Federal Court of Appeal,” In  the absence of real public debate, they pick and choose the discussions that suit them politically.

In the process of appealing to narrow financial arguments, they ignore that millions are wasted by governments to maintain an unjust paternalistic system. A system that continues to marginalize many thousands of Canadians and Métis. Instead of taking the opportunity to  challenge the dominant narrative ad assert the right of Métis to self government and economic self sufficiency, they chose rather to protect their monopoly interests and ignore consultation. 

If you strip away the crass political manoeuvring, it is in tune with the longstanding federal government efforts to assimilate Métis into Canadian society. This will unfortunately be Charter’s legacy.

In conclusion, the Daniels Ruling ruling opens up to new possibilities in treaty reconciliation, unhindered by limitations on identity or coercion by special interests. The Métis peoples in Canada have a direct Constitutional relationship with the Crown and a shared obligation. 

The responsibility is on Canada to act.

Media Inquiries: 
Keith Henry, President 
BC Métis Federation 
#300-3665 Kingsway 
Vancouver, BC V5R 5W2 
Office 1-604-638-7220 
Cell 1-778-388-5013 

You can now follow BC Métis Federation President Keith Henry on twitter@keithhenrymetis

You can follow the BC Métis Federation on twitter @bcmetis

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