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Métis and Non-status Indian Legal Issues

Until the mid-1980s, Saskatchewan’s Métis and Non-Status Indians did not possess Aboriginal status. With similar claims to disentitlement, the two groups formed in 1975 the Association of Métis and Non-Status Indians of Saskatchewan (AMNSIS). In the 1980s, this alliance ended after the Constitution Act, 1982 (s.35.2) declared the Métis to be one of three distinct Aboriginal peoples, thus rekindling Métis nationalism, and also after thousands of Non-Status Indians regained their “Indian” status under Bill C-31 (1985). As a result, AMNSIS dissolved in 1988 and the Métis Society of Saskatchewan (MN-S) reconstituted itself, leaving the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples to represent the province’s Non-Status Indians. Since the mid-1990s, Saskatchewan’s Métis have followed a rights-based agenda. In 1994, Métis Elders and the MN-S filed a (still pending) land claim for the province’s northwestern corner, arguing that the Métis’ Aboriginal title to the land was never extinguished by the 1889 and 1906 Half-breed Scrip Commissions.

The Métis also tried to obtain their Aboriginal animal harvesting rights through litigation. R. v. Morin and Daigneault (1996) granted Saskatchewan Métis with “Indian” fishing rights, while R. v. Grumbo (1996) briefly provided Métis hunting rights before being overturned. The Supreme Court of Canada’s precedent-setting ruling in R. v. Powley (2003), which ruled that the Métis of the Sault Ste. Marie (Ontario) area have an Aboriginal right to hunt for food, provided they could prove their long-term occupancy, may impact upon Métis hunting rights in Saskatchewan, where such rights do not currently exist. Non-Status Indians have no litigation to affirm their rights and generally face a lack of co-operation from Status Indian bands, which do not want their band lists increased, lest their limited resources be further subdivided. Despite their diverging paths, both groups want their Aboriginal status reaffirmed, government to claim responsibility for them (as it does for Status Indians), and a restorative justice system that focuses on community and individual healing/empowerment rather than incarceration. In the future, the province’s Métis and Non-Status Indian populations will try to expand their Aboriginal rights—which may prove difficult, particularly as their numbers are projected to rise significantly through the birth rate, as the number of self-identifying Métis increases (especially if Métis receive Aboriginal hunting rights), and as female unions outside of the Status community continue to disqualify their descendants. For the Métis, a proper enumeration is necessary before their Aboriginal rights are fully implemented.

Darren R. Préfontaine

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Further Reading

Chartrand, P. (ed.). 2002. Who Are Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples? Saskatoon: Purich Publishing; Nichols, R. 2003. “Prospects For Justice: Resolving the Paradoxes of Métis Constitutional Rights,” Canadian Journal of Native Studies 22 (1): 91–111; Sawchuck, J. 2000. “Negotiating an Identity: Métis Political Organizations, the Canadian Government, and Competing Concepts of Aboriginality,” American Indian Quarterly 24 (3): 73–81.
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