OTTAWA – The Supreme Court of Canada declared Thursday that Canada’s 600,000 Metis and non-status Indians are indeed “Indians” under the Constitution. The decision has raised questions about who qualifies as Metis or non-status Indian, but the answer might be a little complicated.
What does Metis mean?
Professor Frank Tough of the faculty of native studies at the University of Alberta says the word Metis has a broad meaning in terms of people who have ancestry from First Nations and Europeans, but it’s more than just people who descended from mixed marriages. He says the Metis Nation were a new people that largely formed out of the fur trade in the 19th century in Western Canada, particularly around the Red River.
David Newhouse, chair of the indigenous studies department at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., notes that some people who are descendants of aboriginals from Acadia, and married Europeans, also identify themselves as Metis.
Who qualifies as Metis?
According to the Metis National Council website, “Metis” means a person who self-identifies as Metis, is distinct from other Aboriginal Peoples, is of historic Metis Nation ancestry and who is accepted by the Metis Nation.
In 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada set out similar components to define Metis as someone who self-identifies as Metis, has an ancestral connection to the historic Metis community, and is accepted by the modern community with continuity to the historic Metis community.
How can it be traced?
Tough compiled a database of thousands of historical records that trace people in the historic Metis Nation. It has records from the 1901 census, Manitoba land entitlements around the Red River and part of what was called the northwest scrip. The scrip was a document, warrant, or certificate that entitled the holder to a certain allotment of public lands.
Tough says many people used the database to get verifiable information so they could apply for Metis Nation citizenship. However, the server with the database went down in February.
How many Metis are there?
It’s complicated. Tough says there are people who are going to self-identify as being Metis across Canada for the purpose of the census, but not all of those people would be part of the Metis Nation. There might be others who move west from Atlantic Canada and identify as Metis, but aren’t part of the historic Metis Nation.
Where do they live?
Tough says the Metis Nation, geographically, is focused on western and northern Canada, on the plains and in areas where there were fur trading posts. He says many Metis have moved to British Columbia, so there’s a substantial population in that province now.
Who qualifies as a non-status Indian?
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada says the term “non-status Indians” refers to people who identify themselves as Indians, but who weren’t allowed to register under the Indian Act. Some of them may be members of a First Nation.
Newhouse says it’s extremely complex. He says that could include people who are descendants of Indians who missed in the initial enrolment. It could also include descendants of Indian women who lost their status when they married non-status Indians, such as a Caucasian man.
Some Indians also lost their status if earned a university degree, joined the Army or the priesthood.
Prof. Adam Gaudry of the University of Saskatchewan’s indigenous studies department says it’s estimated that only about one-third of aboriginal people have status, which means they get access to benefits, social programs and services offered by federal agencies. The remaining two-thirds include Metis, non-status Indians and Inuit.