Really quick info to help understand the Daniels case

The first thing people must understand about Canada in general is that the Constitution Act of 1867 divides up powers between the federal and provincial governments. Most folks learn this in high-school but don’t necessarily remember it forever, unlike quadratic functions ;).

The provinces have power over things like the solemnization of marriage, property and civil rights in the province, setting up municipalities and so on. The federal government has power over things like the armed forces, banking, criminal law etc.

Responsibility and funding for things like systems of education, health care, social services, provincial infrastructure (water and waste management, roads, etc) are generally a provincial power. There is an important exception though in section 91 (24) of the Constitution, which is that the federal government is responsible for “Indians, and Land Reserved for Indians”. The federal government must provide to “Indians” the services normally provided by the provinces (education, health care, social services, etc).

So you have provincial systems, which tend to be available to everyone living off-reserve, and you have federal systems which are focused on reserve populations. Lots to say about how inadequate those federal systems are, but let’s move on.

The federal government has a long history of trying to interpret section 91 (24) to mean they only have responsibility over Indians on Indian lands. The Court keeps insisting these are two separate things, Indians AND Land Reserved for Indians.

“Who is an Indian” then becomes important, because if you are an Indian, the federal government, not the provinces, is responsible for you.

The first group to clearly be “Indians” are those who come under the Indian Act, and are Status Indians.

The second group to be defined as Indians under section 91(24) of the Constitution were Inuit in 1939. This obviously did not turn Inuit people into First Nations people, and Inuit people did not become Indians under the Indian Act. It was just about assigning responsibility, in this case the federal government, not the provinces, is responsible for Inuit.

Non-Status Indians are those who are not considered Indians under the Indian Act but are still obviously Aboriginal people. The Métis are another group of Aboriginal people. For years and years and years and years both groups have been tossed back and forth like a hot potato between the provinces and the federal government, each one saying “they’re you’re problem, not ours!” This has left non-Status Indians and Métis in a sort of legal limbo.

The Daniels decision classifies non-Status Indians and Métis as “Indians” under section 91(24) of the Constitution. This clarifies that both groups are a constitutional responsibility of the federal government and not the provinces.

  • non-Status Indians and Métis are still not governed by the Indian Act
  • non-Status Indians and Métis did not just become Status Indians
  • the federal government will still attempt to limit its responsibility to Status Indians living on reserve, which is where most of the (inadequate) federal funding goes
  • non-Status Indians and Métis do not suddenly have the right to live on reserve (if they do not already have that right)
  • this decision does not ensure that non-Status Indians and Métis will have new federal funding opportunities, that is going to have to be negotiated for, or fought with, the federal government

I know that doesn’t answer all the questions out there, not even by a little bit. There is still a lot to be figured out after this decision, and I won’t get into all of that right now, but the media is making some really inaccurate statements and people are understandably confused, so I hope this helps a bit!

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47 Responses to Really quick info to help understand the Daniels case

  1. This helps a lot. Thanks so much for helping us to understand the details within the issues.

  2. Though the federal government has “responsibility for status Indians’ education (meaning funding); everyone is still taught with provincial curricula and standards.

    • The federal government has not created federal curricula that applies to First Nations, no. This does not mean however that First Nations are bound to follow provincial curricula; they aren’t.

      First Nations schools can design their own curricula on a community to community basis, which is a frankly exhausting task that requires a lot of resources, but always they have to keep in mind that if they want their students to be accepted into provincial institutions after, they have to meet the provincial criteria to do so. In practice this means that many First Nations schools simply adopt provincial curricula. When this doesn’t happen, First Nations must negotiate with the province to have their standards and curricula recognized as equivalent, by the province.

      So in fact no, not everyone is taught with provincial curricula and standards. That is a live issue in Firt Nations education.

  3. Paula Aelton says:

    Thank you for trying to explain this…my brain is reeling!

  4. theresa lizotte says:

    this decision recognises all metis……..that means eastern metis . do you still stand against eastern metis…..

    • The Supreme Court is not the source of Métis identity or nationhood.

      • Stefanie Perry says:

        Interesting…the question was do YOU still stand against eastern Métis?? So…do you?

        • The Métis are a post-Contact Indigenous people with roots in the historical Red River community. There may be other post-Contact people in the east, but they are not Métis.

          One thing Daniels did do that I am grateful for, is make more room within colonial state recognition for that possibility. Hopefully people will now stop trying to claim us, stop appropriating our symbols and trying to copy our systems of governance (claiming to be Leader of the Hunt for example in areas that have never seen a buffalo), and will instead focus on who they are without the need to insist they are us.

          • Stefanie Perry says:

            Interesting….so what name would you give to people who are a combination of French and Native descent who are not from the Red River area? How would you classify the Native/French people from the Saskatchewan River areas?

          • The Métis are diasporic, I said roots in the historical RR, not “only those still living in the RR”.

          • Wendell Sampson says:

            The ruling clearly states that there are no exclusive Metis People in Canada.

          • Michael Black says:

            One thing I was thinking about last night, based on a comment (which didn’t “get it”) to an old post here is that lots of us are derived from non-status indians.

            My great, great, great grandmother
            Sarah was born in 1798, in the pacific northwest. No European country controlled the area, though the distant cousins are in Washington state. My great, great, great grandfather retired from the fur trade, and they moved to the Red River colony. So she never signed a treaty, and was far from home, so she can hardly be part of those who did sign treaties (which would have been with the US anyway). The only reason she is “Canadian” is she lived long enough for Manitoba to become part of Confederation, surrounding where she was living. I don’t think her husband ever considered himself anything but Scottish. There were no rules about marrying out at the time either.

            So for marriages long enough ago, they were non-status because there was no status. Claiming status now, which of course is a federal thing in this case rather than getting status with a band, may be as valid as trying for the status as “Metis”. Since this ruling takes in both, claiming status based on an ancestor may work as well as trying to stretch “Metis” to a wider meaning.

            But then it has to be more substantial than the “Cherokee great, great grandmother”.

            On the other hand, I’m thinking more in terms of acknowledging the past rather than getting something. People should find their family tree rather than have some vague idea
            that they have a native ancestor.
            And Henrietta Ross Black isn’t just a photo on the Museum of History website, she’s my great great grandmother who felt inferior because she was half-breed. Understanding that past is why it’s important to try for status.


  5. Andy says:

    Thanks for this. Very informative and straightforward summary.

  6. You should also comment on the Powley Test for Historic & Non- Historic Metis and who the MNC’s Provincial Affiliates will accept as Members. Just because the Government has made a decision doesn’t mean that a person will get to be a member of the Métis.

    • Yeah, the case itself definitely needs more explanation! The clarifications I put in here (in a rush!) were just the most egregious being passed around as truth in the media and I felt they needed to be addressed immediately.

  7. Wendell Sampson says:

    The ruling states in paragraph(section) 17 that “As early as 1650, a distinct Metis community developed in Leheve, Nova Scotia, separate from the Acadians and Micmac Indians”. That year again is 1650! How do you reconcile this with your belief that the term Metis is exclusive to the Red River?

    • adamgaudry says:

      The case doesn’t actually say what you think it does, doesn’t recognize particular Metis or NSI communities.

      “Determining whether particular individuals or communities are non‑status Indians or Métis and therefore “Indians” under s. 91(24), is a fact‑driven question to be decided on a case‑by‑case basis in the future.”

      Nor did it involve significant historical evidence. The many s.35 Metis Aboriginal rights cases in the maritimes failed on those grounds. The idea that this footnote will allow anyone with an Indigenous ancestor in the 17th century who “remained hidden” until now to become Métis is misleading…

      • Wendell Sampson says:

        “There is no consensus on who is considered metis or non-status Indian, nor need there be. Cultural and ethnic labels do not lend themselves to neat boundaries. “Metis” can refer to the Historic Red River Settlement or it can be used as a general term for anyone with mixed European and Aboriginal heritage. Some mixed ancestry communities identify as Metis, others as Indian.”…..while I already know your academic stance Adam I am POSITIVE this says what I think it does.

        “The idea that this footnote will allow anyone with an Indigenous ancestor in the 17th century who “remained hidden” until now to become Métis is misleading…” …..This statement is misleading as it is impossible for one to “become” what they already are and have always been. You are correct it will be decided on a case by case basis except with a broader more inclusive definition.

        • Darren O'Toole says:

          The Court also cited with approval Gaffney et al. (1984) according to whom the “Metis of eastern Canada and northern Canada are as distinct from Red River Metis as any two peoples can be […]”

          Funny how you failed to include that part of the decision in your quote…

    • anonymous says:

      This paragraph conflates the meaning of Métis as a racial category with the contemporary Indigenous understanding and significance of the term Métis as a locus of political action through particular nodes of time and space. To denote ‘métis’ as a racial term is to understand it as a phenomenon of ‘mixing’ or ‘half-breeds’, ‘mixed-blood’, or other racially signified categories borne of Euro-Western race theory which emerged through the 16th to 20th centuries. While I do not doubt that a community of people in Leheve who had roots in both Mi’kmaq communities and European communities were present in 1650, the characterization of contemporary Métis–who have a distinct language [itself formed from nehiyawewin, anishinaabemowin, and saulteaux as well as French ], history (centred around political action which includes recognition by Indigenous nations through the formation of the nehiyaw pwat or Iron Confederacy)–as merely a semiotic translation of the French [often racially-charged] meaning of the word ‘métis’ or ‘métisser’ (‘to mix’) is a Euro-Western conceit. For the Supreme Court to re-introduce racial logics in its understandings of who the Métis are turns back the clocks on critical conversations which seek to privilege Indigenous epistemologies and ontologies in order to disrupt european scientific racism and obsession with ‘blood’ (and now, DNA). What is wrong with fighting for the rights of non-Status Indigenous peoples with connections to Mi’kmaq communities and French communities by attending to the distinct and powerful relationships and responsibilities those communities share with their Mi’kmaq neighbours, kin?

      • Wendell Sampson says:

        Normally I wouldn’t respond to a person who doesn’t identify themselves…..
        “What is wrong with fighting for the rights of non-Status Indigenous peoples with connections to Mi’kmaq communities and French communities by attending to the distinct and powerful relationships and responsibilities those communities share with their Mi’kmaq neighbours, kin?”
        The problem here is that it would do a disservice to my Acadian Metis community….the one that gave rise to all other Metis communities (including those descending from the Red River settlements). The ruling was very clear that the term is not the exclusive domain of the Red River Metis. You also use some type of pseudo academic lingo that you bought from a University that clearly sold you an overpriced degree….”as a locus of political action through particular nodes of time and space”…. can you tone it down a little for us dumb folk. I am all too familiar with the idea of reducing Metis to a “racial category” and see it as an academic spin to try to convince the masses that distinct community, language, and culture do not exist here in the East.

        • Darren O'Toole says:

          So, if I understand you correctly, your community (it just so happens) gave rise to the Scots Half-Breeds in Red River?

          • Wendell says:

            No I apologize in this case the Scots Half-Breeds in Red River would be descendants of (and owe their existence to) the Scottish Half-Breeds descending from Scottish settlements that likely began in Nova Scotia. In this case even the Scots Half Breeds in Red River should be thankful for the existence of the Acadian Metis for coining the term Metis and providing you with many cultural elements that you proudly display today. Do a little research and you will see where your sash, music and dance originated…in L’Acadie.

          • Going to stop you here. You are not my kin, and you do not get to claim us as your descendants. I am very clear on where my ancestors came from, and your people do not factor in, no matter how hard you bluster.

        • Darren O'Toole says:

          Désolé, mon ami, linguists have established French in the west comes from the “canadien” dialect, which itself comes from a combination of the dialects in Brittany and Normandy, not from the “acadien” dialect, which comes the west of France.

          (Perhaps you’re confusing us with Cajuns in Louisiana?)

          And no, the Scots did not come through Acadia. They either came through Montréal, in the case of the North-West Company, or they came directly from Scotland, in the case of the Hudson’s Bay Company. There is overwhelming evidence to support this in HBC and NWC documents and in fur trade history.

          Our dance and music are primarily a combination of Canadien (which itself has some celtic influence from Brittany), Scottish with Indigenous influences, but it has unique features that are found nowhere else (See Whidden, Hourie and Barkwell, 2006). Les voyageurs canadiens brought the sash with them from Lower Canada, not Acadia.

          You might want to take your own advice and do a little research…

          • Wendell says:

            “As a tribute to a remarkable Métis craft, it is a well accepted fact that the woolen saches of the Eastern French Métis, referred to as “la ceinture fléchée”, arrowed sashes or as ceinture de L’Assomption or ceinture de St-Jacques de L’Achigan . The name were derived from the localities from which they originated. These Métis sashes first originated in Acadia, Lower Canada. Among the sashes of this exceptional group are the Métis Acadian sashes which were also referred as to the beaded sashes which consisted of 2 separate bands , of about 1 1/2 inches wide. Similar to simple garters, the border strand of these saches were interlock ed together at the edges.”

      • Wendell says:

        Lets do a quick review of Acadian Metis history examining your criteria. Characterizing contemporary Acadian Metis…..a distinct language – check. A history centered around political action – check. Historical recognition from Indigenous nations – Big Check!! – (See Father LeLoutre’s War or the French Indian Wars)…It would seem here that all your criteria are met by Acadians. This and the modern day cultural practices of Red River Metis that can be traced directly from Acadians should suffice to satisfy your criteria.

        • Darren O'Toole says:


          L’Assomption is not in Acadia, and your source explicitly mentions Lower Canada. So at best your claim is true about one particular pattern – and there were many, many patterns before it became standardized when the NWC started to mass produce them). Your source in fact invalidates your claim and confirms what I stated.

          You might be interested to know that the Kanienkehaka also wear the sash. Go tell them that they “should be thankful for the existence of the Acadian Metis […] and providing [them] with many cultural elements that [they] proudly display today” and see how they “thank” you.

          And while you desperately flail around for sources, you might want to look up the etymology of “métis”. It did not originate in Acadia.

          • Wendell Sampson says:


            Begin your tour of the Lanaudière in the heart of L’Assomption Parish, once part of a vast seigneury run by Catholic priests from Montreal’s Seminary of Saint-Sulpice. The historic quarter on the banks of the L’Assomption River is a veritable treasury of early- and mid-19th century structures, recalling L’Assomption’s early vocation as a centre of learning, worship, trade and government.

            A walking-tour guide offered by the Centre regional d’archives de Lanaudière (270 Blvd. l’Ange-Gardien) features 30 local heritage sites, including one of North America’s oldest courthouse buildings (1811) and the Collège de L’Assomption (1844), home of the region’s first private Catholic school.

            L’Assomption, c.1920s.
            L’Assomption, c.1920s. (Photo – Farfan Collection)
            In 1724. French curé Pierre LeSueur led the first group of European settlers to the present townsite, located strategically on a traditional portage route well-known to coureurs-des-bois and Algonquin trappers. They were followed in the 1760s by a number of Acadian families deported by the British from their homelands in Nova Scotia. Scottish merchant George McBeath, a shareholder in the famous North West Company and member of Lower Canada’s legislative assembly, opened a trading post in L’Assomption in 1785.

            At the height of the fur trade, local finger weavers of Acadian descent gained fame as creators of the acclaimed L’Assomption Sash, a colourful fringed belt worn by Métis trappers.

            Centre regional d¹archives de Lanaudière.
            270 Blvd. L’Ange-Gardien
            l’Assomption, Tel: (450) 589-0233

          • Wendell Sampson says:

            This passage clearly articulates the origins of the Metis sash in Acadia. Should you wish to verify this you can call the the archives in L’Assomption…. The phone number has even been included for your convenience!!!. You would know this if you bothered to look beyond the imaginary Metis borders you have created in your own mind.

          • Darren O'Toole says:

            Uh, Wendell, you’re own quote shows that Assumption is in Lanaudière which is in Lower Canada. It says the sash was weaved by Acadians, not designed by them. Nor does it say anything about them being “métis”.

            And anyway, who cares? As I said, the Assomption sash is not the only sash design and it wasn’t just worn by the Métis. Kanienkehaka and French-Canadians also used it and also still display it today, but for some strange reason you aren’t going around telling Kanienkehaka or Québecois to be thankful to Acadians for many of their cultural elements.

        • Darren O'Toole says:

          And besides, the French who settled in Acadia brought over many “cultural elements” from France. Does that in any way mean that Acadians can not be a separate and distinct people from the French today? Of course not. In much the same way, it’s not because the Métis have some “cultural elements” from French-Canadians – or even Acadians – that we’re not a separate and distinct people.

        • Darren O'Toole says:

          You might want to look beyond the imaginary Acadian métis origins of the sash you have created in your mind:

          « En 1776, le Britannique Thomas Anburey, écrit des Canadiens : « … leur habillement consiste en une sorte de jaquette et, quand il fait froid, ils portent une espèce de couverture qu’ils attachent autour d’eux avec une ceinture de laine… ». En 1777, un mercenaire allemand, logé à Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade se fait plus explicite dans ses remarques lorsqu’il écrit : « […] Ils portent aux hanches par-dessus ce manteau, une épaisse écharpe de laine aux longues franges, tissée par eux : ces écharpes sont de diverses couleurs, selon le goût de chacun ». Il ajoute que le gouverneur du Bas Canada, Guy Carleton a lui-même adopté ce costume pratique et chaud pour se déplacer pendant l’hiver. » […]

          « Personne ne sait avec certitude comment s’est développée la ceinture fléchée. Autant la ceinture de laine que certains motifs qui l’ornent se retrouvent dans de nombreux pays. Des recherches ont par exemple démontré que le chevron (le V et le W) est un motif universel. Il se retrouve du Japon du 6e siècle jusqu’aux pays de l’Europe de l’Est, dans les pays scandinaves, en Israël et en Afrique du Nord. En Amérique, la présence des ceintures de laine remonte aux origines de la Nouvelle-France. Jacques Cartier, lors de son passage dans la Baie des chaleurs en 1534, en fait don à un Amérindien […]».

          « Les premières ceintures dites colorées, qui sont apparues un peu avant 1776, présentaient un chevron. À la fin du XVIIIe siècle, la ceinture est toujours tissée aux doigts (on ne se sert d’aucun instrument) mais ses motifs se raffinent. Les brins sont déplacés un à un dans un ordre mathématique qui donnera des pointes de flèches, des éclairs, des losanges, des quadrillés. Les motifs de flèches comme tels apparaissent vers 1796. Une année plus tôt, une première production de ceintures est lancée en Angleterre, qui fournira éventuellement les compagnies de traite de fourrures. La laine du pays, produite et teinte par les paysans, est peu à peu remplacée par la laine worsted importée d’Angleterre à partir de 1800. D’où, d’ailleurs, le nom de worsted sash souvent utilisé par les auteurs anglophones de l’époque pour décrire une ceinture fléchée. Le travail ardu de confection et la demande croissante donnent éventuellement lieu à de multiples méthodes ayant pour but d’accroître la production et de faire baisser les prix. Ce sera le cas des ceintures tissées sur métiers en Angleterre à partir de 1821, ou de celles de Sillery, faites à la navette dès 1825. Au Canada, la production se concentre dans la région de l’Assomption après 1835, qui donne son nom à un type particulièrement répandu de ceinture. D’autres villes, comme Granby, Chicoutimi et Lachute, développeront un motif local. Notons enfin que des teintures chimiques anglaises sont inventées en 1856. Elles permettent de mieux fixer les couleurs qui, jusque-là, se délavaient sous les intempéries. »

        • Darren O'Toole says:

          « Outre des arguments circonstanciels de l’existence d’une ceinture fléchée dite « acadienne », nous n’avons trouvé aucune documentation pour soutenir l’hypothèse de l’origine acadienne. La consultation des études détaillées sur le costume acadien […] suggèrent de réfuter l’hypothèse de l’origine acadienne de la ceinture fléchée […] ».

          Histoire et origines de la ceinture fléchée traditionnelle dite de L’Assomption, p. 66.

  8. National Chief Bellegarde stated, “Today’s decision allows First Nations to welcome back the citizens previously lost under colonial laws and policies. The decision should help remove barriers to progress and break down the old colonial thinking.

  9. Ken McGuire says:

    I have read that the first official recognized Metis was the child of Marie Olivier and Martin Prevost in Quebec. Marie Olivier was the European name given to a Huron/Algonquin girl.

  10. Ken McGuire says:

    I think there may be as many definitions of Metis as there are associations. The number of Metis has doubled in the past few years suggesting that more people are identifying themselves as Metis. I think there will be many conversations going on, for years, to define the term to the satisfaction of all.

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  12. louis syms says:

    my grandfather was born in chapel island. cape Breton reservation my grand mother was born in st pierre a micelion my grand mother was French and grandfather was native all my family have metis cards from nova scotia to Ontario.. I live in nova scotia whatr does that mean for me louie syms

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  14. Parvin says:

    Thank you

  15. How many people does this concern? Currently, there are over a million and a half First Nation, Inuit and Metis, so what will the numbers in population be when these additional people are added? Surely that means voting power and action will also substantially increase? (Hoping)

    • It shouldn’t mean an increase at all, non-Status and Métis people are already counted (though who knows how accurate those numbers are since they rely on self-identification). This doesn’t create new people.

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