Highest court in Can. sides with Metis people
Monday, September 22, 2003

In an historic decision, Canada's highest court on Friday ruled that mixed-blood Indians have the same hunting rights as other federally-recognized Indians.

Although limited to one community in Ontario, the 9-0 decision was hailed as a victory for all Mtis because the Supreme Court, for the first time, has determined that M�tis have constitutionally-protected entitlements that can't be infringed without justification.

"To all the M�tis people watching I want to say two words: We won! We won!" said Audrey Poitras, acting president of the M�tis National Council, at a press conference in Ottawa on Friday.

The seven-year-old case involves Steve Powley and his son, who are M�tis from the Sault Ste. Marie community in Ontario. They were charged by the provincial government for hunting without a license and out of season.

Powley resisted, saying he should be treated the same as federally-recognized "status" Indians, who are afforded certain protections, such as a priority to hunt, under Canada's constitution. He asked to be acquitted from the charges but also for a ruling that recognized his Aboriginal rights as a mixed-blood.

In the decision, the Supreme Court said that M�tis are indeed protected by the constitution. Although of Indian and European descent, the court said that Metis communities have a collective identity that must be examined historically.

In Powley's case, the court said the hunting has been an "integral" part of the Sault Ste. Marie community since European contact. "Ontario's lack of recognition of any M�tis right to hunt for food and the application of the challenged provisions infringes the M�tis aboriginal right and conservation concerns did not justify the infringement," the court wrote.

The court also said the Ontario government has no excuse not to enter into the same type of hunting agreements it has with recognized First Nations. "In the longer term, a combination of negotiation and judicial settlement will more clearly define the contours of the M�tis right to hunt," the court wrote.

M�tis leaders took this language as clear directive to the federal and provincial governments. "This decision is a great victory for the M�tis Nation," said Poitras. "The governments of Canada can no longer refuse to negotiate with the M�tis Nation and treat us as though we don't have any Aboriginal rights. Those days are over."

Ralph Goodale, the federal government's interlocutor for M�tis and non-status Indians, admitted the decision has "ramifications" beyond hunting rights. "We'll have to examine that carefully. It's going to take a little bit of time to determine the full scope and nature of the application of this decision," he said on Friday.

In addition to the historical issue, the Supreme Court set out a series of tests to determine whether M�tis quality for aboriginal rights. First, the court said, a person "must self-identify as a member of a M�tis community. Second, the decision stated, a person "must present evidence of an ancestral connection" to an historic community, Third, the person "must demonstrate that he or she is accepted by the modern community," the court concluded.

"Self-identification, ancestral connection, and community acceptance are factors which define M�tis identity for the purpose of claiming M�tis rights under" the constitution, the court wrote, adding that it would not impose a blood-quantum requirement on the Metis.

The Powley decision was tempered by a negative ruling in another case. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a man who was hunting out of season, saying that a 1930 constitutional agreement does not apply to M�tis.

According to the latest Statistics Canada data, there are 300,000 M�tis in the nation, or about 30 percent of the entire Aboriginal population.

Get the Decisions:
R. v. Powley (September 19, 2003) | R. v. Blais (September 19, 2003)

Relevant Links:
Metis National Council -
Metis Nation of Ontario -

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