From left: Victoria-Beacon Hill MLA Carole James

Louis Riel Day marks Métis status in B.C.

Supreme Court of Canada has declared Métis people to have he same constitutional rights as 'status Indians'

The province marked Nov. 16 as Louis Riel Day with the raising of the Métis flag at the B.C. legislature, and an expanded commitment to recognize Métis identity.

There are 70,000 people in B.C. recognized as Métis, and that number is growing as genealogy research identifies more people with mixed aboriginal and European ancestry.

“People are learning that they are Métis and it’s important that they learn what it means to be Métis,” said Clara Morin Dal Col, president Métis Nation B.C. at a ceremony at the legislature.

They have the same constitutional rights as aboriginal people, or “status Indians” as Canadian law still defines them, thanks to a judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada in April 2016 known as the Daniels decision. The decision also recognizes “non-status Indians,” although it does not immediately confer the rights to programs and services available to “status Indians” on reserves across Canada.

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Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada does not yet have an estimate of how much the Daniels decision will cost to implement.

“We are studying the decision to determine next steps,” says a statement on the INAC website. “We will be working in genuine partnership with Métis and non-status Indians – based on recognition of rights, respect, and partnership – in order to meaningfully advance the work of reconciliation.”

B.C. Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad signed a new accord with Métis Nation B.C. representatives, updating one signed 10 years ago to set objectives to address health, housing, education, economic opportunities, Métis identification and data collection.

The updated accord includes children and families, justice and wildlife stewardship, areas where the province works with on-reserve aboriginal people, said Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton, who was named parliamentary secretary for Métis relations in October.

Dalton is Métis, as is Victoria-Beacon Hill MLA Carole James. Among those recently discovering their own Métis heritage is Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick.

Rustad said Métis people represent a third of the indigenous people in Canada.