In a landmark ruling, Canada's top court has granted more than 600,000 Metis and unrecognized Indians "aboriginal" status. The decision ends a 17-year legal battle for recognition.
The Supreme Court ruling on Thursday will allow Metis and unregistered aboriginals, or non-status Indians, to negotiate with the federal government for the same special legal rights and benefits given to First Nations people on reservations.
Those rights include hunting and fishing exemptions, tax breaks and assistance for health care, housing and education.
The Metis are the descendants of early French fur traders and Indian women in the western provinces. They were discriminated against in colonial Canada and by conservative Canadian governments, who often referred to them as "half-breeds."
"The historical, philosophical and linguistic contexts establish that 'Indians' includes all aboriginal peoples, including non-status Indians and Metis," the court said in a unanimous decision.
The court decision adds 400,000 Metis and 200,000 non-status Indians to the 1.4 million people already recognized as indigenous people.
'Path forward will be together': Trudeau
Speaking after the court decision, the plaintiff's lawyer Joe Magnet said the absence of Indian status prevented Metis and non-status Indians from receiving badly needed benefits and services.
"We will look forward to engaging the government as to how these discriminatory practices should be removed," he said.
Aboriginal communities in Canada rank relatively low socio-economically and suffer from higher rates of drug abuse, violence and imprisonment.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has made reconciliation with First Nations people a priority, welcomed the decision.
"Canadians who don't have the same chances as other Canadians do - that is something that has been going on for far too long," Trudeau said. "We'll be engaging with indigenous leadership to figure out the path forward, but I can guarantee you one thing: the path forward will be together."
The court decision ends a 17-year legal battle for recognition.
cw/cmk (AFP, Reuters)