Thursday, September 18, 2014
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Ruling 'opens door' for Metis land claims

Interesting times ahead, predicts Doucette

By Jason Warick, The Starphoenix

A recent Supreme Court ruling will bolster First Nations land claims, but it also "opens the door" for Metis claims, says Metis Nation, Saskatchewan President Robert Doucette.

"I think it really opens the door. This will make times very interesting for Metis people," Doucette said Sunday at the annual Back to Batoche festival approximately 75 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.

Two University of Saskatchewan experts say Doucette could be right, development that could have a major implications. U of S Canada Research chair Ken Coates compared the ruling's effect to the ripples caused by a stone thrown in a calm lake.

"It's absolutely an amazingly important decision," said Coates, who teaches in the U of S Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.

In June, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the "aboriginal title" of British Columbia's Tsilhqot'in Nation.

The court recognized the First Nation's claim to 1,700 square kilometres of land in the B.C. interior.

The court laid out tests for future title cases, which included proof of exclusive occupation, even if nomadic, over a long time period.

Doucette said Metis will benefit because, like B.C. First Nations, Metis did not sign treaties and did not surrender their land.

Many Metis did accept "scrip" payments of land and money in the late-1800s. But just as opinion is mixed as to whether First Nations "extinguished" their land title by signing treaties, some say even those who did accept scrip did not understand it to mean surrendering all land claims.

Doucette also cited the Harry Daniels case. The Federal Court of Canada ruled Metis were "Indians" under Canada's constitution. The Federal Court of Appeal agreed, rejecting the federal government's 2013 appeal.

The Daniels and Tsilhqot'in rulings show the courts are making forceful statements about Metis rights, Doucette said.

Doucette said other types of Metis land claims will also benefit. Doucette's maternal relatives, the McKays, were among dozens of families forcibly removed from their land without compensation in northeast Saskatchewan in the 1950s. The federal government built the Cold Lake Weapons range on that spot.

In other parts of traditional Metis land in the area, resource companies are extracting or exploring for uranium, oil and other valuable commodities. He said Metis must also be included in any talk of resource revenue sharing.

"These and other removals are a blight on this country that should be remediated," Doucette said.

Doucette said he's reluctant to take Metis claims to court. He said negotiation is far less expensive and is a much better way to promote reconciliation and harmony.

"I'm hopeful, but if these don't get resolved by my generation, the next ones will take up the cause," he said.

Coates said the rulings could lead to a host of consequences. Metis claims could overlap with those of First Nations, causing possible friction among those groups.

U of S professor Dwight Newman, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Rights in Constitutional and International Law, agreed. He said the ruling could bolster Metis claims but "may open a Pandora's box of conflicts" with First Nations.

Like Doucette, Coates said all parties can avoid a long, expensive dispute.

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