Métis claims in Maritimes leap by thousands

Last Updated: Thursday, September 7, 2006 | 10:55 AM AT

CBC News

In the three years since the country's top court defined Métis rights for the first time, thousands of people in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have come forward to claim Métis status.

The 2003 Supreme Court of Canada decision, known as the Powley ruling, recognized a community in Ontario as Métis and gave them the aboriginal right to hunt for food — a decision seen as a first step toward granting full aboriginal rights to hunt and fish for food out of season or without a provincial licence.

The New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council estimates 1,000 people have come forward in recent years claiming Métis status.

In Nova Scotia, the claims have risen in the province to 8,000 from about 4,000 five years earlier, according to the Confederacy of Nova Scotia Métis.

Paul Ross, a spokesman for the confederacy, said he doesn't believe the rise in claims has anything to do with the landmark Supreme Court decision, which was specific to a Métis community in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

"Everybody in this area is Métis," said Ross. "We just want to be recognized as Métis here in Nova Scotia."

'Historic Métis nation' ranges from Ontario to B.C.

Just because someone has made a claim to be recognized as Métis doesn't mean they are Métis, said Tony Belcourt, who is with the Métis National Council.

"They're certainly not affiliated with what we call the historic Métis nation in what we call our homeland, from Ontario to B.C.," Belcourt said.

Under the council's definition, people are Métis if they self-identify as such, are of historic Métis nation ancestry and are accepted by the Métis Nation.

The rights of around 300,000 Métis people in Canada, who have mixed aboriginal and non-aboriginal ancestry, have never been defined under the 1982 Constitution.

Visibility, decline in racism may be factors

Bradford Morse, an aboriginal law instructor at the University of Ottawa, said the Powley decision is likely only one of the reasons why people in the Maritimes are declaring themselves Métis.

"Part of it is influenced by the visibility the media gives to Métis rights, part of it is a function of increased programs and services being available for Métis," said Morse.

He said it's also possible some people are willing to declare themselves Métis because there's less racial discrimination now than there was years ago.