The same week that a First Nation community in Canada declared a state of emergency over a suicide crisis, the Canadian Supreme Court has moved to improve the conditions of some 600,000 indigenous people by including them in the jurisdiction of the federal government.
"Now hopefully we will not have to wait any longer to sit at the table," Dwight Dorey, national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, told the CBC.
The decision particularly effects around 400,000 Canadians who identify as Métis, a term historically used to describe biracial Aboriginal Canadian people, especially those with some French, English, or Scottish ancestry. This is how the Métis Nation describes what it means to be Métis:
The advent of the fur trade in west central North America during the 18th century was accompanied by a growing number of mixed offspring of Indian women and European fur traders. As this population established distinct communities separate from those of Indians and Europeans and married among themselves, a new Aboriginal people emerged—the Métis people–with their own unique culture, traditions, language (Michif), way of life, collective consciousness and nationhood.
Métis and other native people not connected to specific native reserves were not considered the responsibility of the federal government until the court's decision this week. That meant that they were also not entitled to government support including funding for public services like health care, housing, and education, the CBC reports.
Thursday's ruling means that the aboriginal people included in the court's decision will have access to more of that funding, but also that they'll be empowered to negotiate for land rights.
“We have to talk about the programs and services, the benefits to the Métis–whether it be health care, education, housing, economic development,” Bruce Dumont, president of Métis Nation BC, told the Globe and Mail. “We would expect to see resources flowing our way–not immediately, it will take time.”
This is a significant turning point for indigenous rights in Canada: one indigenous studies expert, Professor Adam Gaudry from the University of Saskatchewan, told the Global News that he thinks two-thirds of aboriginal people in Canada were not considered the responsibility of the federal government until Thursday's ruling.