A unanimous ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada has determined that the federal government must recognize Metis and non-status Indians as Aboriginal groups on par with 'Indians' as defined in the constitution.
It's a landmark decision after a 17-year legal dispute, which sought to establish that Metis and non-status Indians should be included with status Indians and the Inuit as a federal government responsibility.
Marlin Ratch, the president of the Rocky Mountain Metis Association, welcomed the ruling.
"What the ruling is about, is it's a confirmation that we've held forever that the government's duty to the Metis people, as well as to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, should be the same as the other Aboriginal peoples of Canada," Ratch said. "The Metis have always been passed off to other jurisdictions or they haven't been listed in the Indian Act, therefore you can't access any of these services…
"So it's always been a bit of a sore contention because the Metis people themselves suffer from some of the same social ills and problems that the other Aboriginal peoples of Canada do and we don't have any recourse or resource to take care of them."
Officially, the legal battle has wound through various levels of court since 1999 when a lawsuit was filed by the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and Harry Daniels. However, the ruling confirms a view that the Metis have long held, according to Ratch.
"For lack of a better term, the Metis should be considered in the same breath as the term 'Indian' as it was used way back in the 1800s…for fiduciary duty and responsibility and things like that, the federal government really needed to step up and they never did," Ratch said.
The decision should help end the inter-governmental buck-passing, he added.
"[The federal government] should be sitting down with the Metis leadership, it should be working with them on health care issues, elders issues, violence against women issues, missing and murdered children and women issues, economic development…the list goes on and on."
Ratch estimates the Metis population in the East Kootenay to several thousand.