A Tuesday federal court decision recognizing Métis and non-status Indians as ‘Indians’ could cost government billions of dollars, some experts say.
The ruling could also entitle Métis and non-status Indians to the same benefits as registered status Indians including tax exemptions if living on a reserve, hunting and fishing rights, health benefits and education subsidies.
“The court ruled that Métis and non-status Indians meet the definition under the section of the Constitutional Act,” said Roger Kishi, program director at the Wachiay Friendship Centre, which serves Métis in the Comox Valley. “We’ll have to wait and see what the federal government does about that.”
According to the 2006 census, nearly 400,000 Canadians identified themselves as Métis, although only about half are officially recognized. In the Comox Valley, Census numbers indicate about 2,400 individuals are identified as aboriginal, Kishi said.
Government could appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada and the Appeals Court — which means it could be several years of court proceedings before Métis or non-status Indians reap any benefits.
“Right now, we’re just going to continue to monitor and see what actually happens out of it,” Kishi said, noting the process that resulted in Tuesday’s court decision originated in 1999.
“They (federal government) certainly seem to have a number of issues to deal with in relation to aboriginal relations these days.”
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples calls Tuesday’s ruling a “landmark ruling.”
“This is an historical step to end the discrimination and the denial of aboriginal treaty and birthrights that has existed for far too long among Métis and non-status Indians,” Congress national Chief Betty Ann Lavallee said in a news release.
With a file from CBC News