Background on Métis Rights

 

Métis is one of three distinct groups recognized as “Aboriginal” in the Constitution Act of 1982 (also First Nations and Inuit). Métis refers to a collective of cultures and ethnic identities that resulted from unions between Aboriginal and European peoples in what is today Canada. “Métis”, stemming from the Latin verb miscēre, or “to mix”, initially referred to the children of these relationships. Over the generations though, this characterization came to refer to the distinct cultural identities of particular communities. In recent years, partially due to the Métis rights case R. v. Powley, [2003] 2 S.C.R. 207, 2003 SCC 43 (see below), the term Métis has shifted from referring to a single cultural identity produced by European-Aboriginal intermarriage across different communities, to applying to multiple identities that arose from diverse historical instances of Aboriginal-European heritage. Many Métis groups have adopted terms of identity that separate their community from other Métis communities.

Métis rights are recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982:

  1. The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.
  2. In this Act, “aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.
  3. For greater certainty, in subsection (1) “treaty rights” includes rights that now exist by way of land claims agreements or may be so acquired.
  4. Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, the aboriginal and treaty rights referred to in subsection (1) are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.

The court has now decided on a number of cases focused on Métis rights. In the Powley decision (2003), the Supreme Court found that the Métis community in and around Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario has an Aboriginal right, protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, to hunt for food. As stated in the Powley decision:

“On October 22, 1993, Steve and Roddy Powley killed a bull moose just outside Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. They tagged their catch with a Métis card and a note that read “harvesting my meat for winter.” The Powleys were charged with hunting moose without a license and unlawful possession of moose. In 1998, the trial judge ruled that the Powleys have a Métis right to hunt that is protected by s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. [After a series of appeals by the Crown] on September 19, 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada, in a unanimous judgment, said that the Powleys, as members of the Sault Ste. Marie Métis community, can exercise a Métis right to hunt that is protected by s. 35 of the Constitution.”

“The term “Métis ” in s. 35 does not encompass all individuals with mixed Indian and European heritage; rather, it refers to distinctive peoples who, in addition to their mixed ancestry, developed their own customs, way of life, and recognizable group identity separate from their Indian or Inuit or European forebears. Métis communities evolved and flourished prior to the entrenchment of European control, when the influence of European settlers and political institutions became pre-eminent.”

“A Métis community can be defined as a group of Métis with a distinctive collective identity, living together in the same geographic area and sharing a common way of life.”

Recent information and activities concerning Métis rights (links to other information or other web pages):