It was a journey that started some 17 years ago and ended Thursday with the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that 600,000 Métis and non-status Indians are in fact “Indians” under the Constitution.
The Supreme Court’s landmark decision saw the work of Harry Daniels finally completed, a man who spent his life fighting for the rights of Métis and First Nations people.
Born in Regina, Daniels was one of the founding members of the Saskatchewan Métis Society. During the ‘70s he worked for the Native Council of Canada, while also serving as director of aboriginal rights research for the Métis Association of Alberta, according to a biography on the website metisnation.ca.
In 1982, Daniels, now a prominent aboriginal leader, worked to get the rights of the “Metis People” protected in the Constitution.
In 1999, Daniels along with the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, filed a court action against the federal government to allege discrimination because they were not considered “Indians” under the Constitution.
WATCH: Metis National Council president hails ‘significant victory’ following Supreme Court verdict
Daniels died in 2004 as the case began to make its way through the courts and the following year his son Gabriel was added as a plaintiff.
“I’m overwhelmed, I have a heavy heart right now,” Gabriel Daniels said Thursday after the decision was announced.
“I am just thinking about my dad. I’m not going to start crying… He would be climbing the walls, he would be happy but he’d be focused on things to come.”
The legacy of Daniels echoed through the foyer of the Supreme Court as Metis and aboriginal leaders cheered with joy.
WATCH: President of Metis women’s group praises Supreme Court decision:
Métis National Council president Clément Chartier called it a “fantastic day” for all aboriginal peoples.
“It’s great victory for all aboriginal peoples or the parties that were affected by this case,” Chartier told reporters. “The non-status Indians have been re-included and of course Metis. Basically they are saying that Indians in 1867 means aboriginal peoples and that is a significant victory for all of us.”
The unanimous 9-0 ruling means that tens of thousands of Métis and non-status Indians are the responsibility of the federal government and could serve as a starting point for those seeking land claims and additional government services.
Women of the Métis Nation President Melanie Omeniho also praised the decision.
“Metis women, children and families have been disadvantaged and now the opportunities for them to come to the table and be able to find the resources necessary to have their children succeed in school, to help them appreciate housing programs and opportunities … we are really grateful for the decision today,” Omeniho told reporters.
Speaking in London, Ont., Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the ruling will have broad consequences and said his government will work “together” with indigenous peoples.
“We, of course, respect the Supreme Court decision and we’ll be engaging, not just on our own but with indigenous leadership to figure out what the path is forward,” Trudeau said.
“I can guarantee you one thing, the path forward will be together.”
*With files from the Canadian Press