Last week’s Supreme Court of Canada decision upholding aboriginal rights for non-status Indians and Métis will have a major impact in the Yukon.
So say a couple of Yukoners intimate with the issue.
Bill Webber was the former president of the Yukon Association of Non-Status Indians through the late 1970s, and has remained abreast with the issues facing non-status Indians.
Rick Christianson is the current president of the Métis Nation of the Yukon.
Both believe the decision is not only a win for non-status Indians and Métis, but believe the impact here will be profound.
Nobody’s going to see anything overnight, but things will change, they agree.
“We have to sit down as an executive to see where we can go from here,” Christianson said in interview this week of the way forward for the Métis Nation.
“It is certainly exciting news, but it is not something here in the Yukon we can just take off with.”
Webber said the decision will affect Yukon First Nations across the board: the three without land claim and self-government agreements and the 11 First Nations that have final agreements.
“It will be interesting to see how this unfolds,” Webber said in a separate interview. “I think it will take a number of years before it flushes out.”
Webber pointed out, for instance, that annual financial transfer payments to the 11 self-governing First Nations is based on the number of status Indians belonging to the First Nation.
Funding formulas will have to change as a result of the decision, he said.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled last week that non-status Indians and Métis have aboriginal rights under the Constitution of Canada in same way as status Indians have rights under the Constitution.
Ottawa and the provinces have “alternately” denied responsibility for looking after the interests of non-status and Métis, the high court points out.
“This results in these indigenous communities being in a jurisdictional wasteland with significant and obvious disadvantaging consequences,” reads the decision.
The Supreme Court points out over the years, decades and centuries, even Ottawa would embrace Métis and non-status Indians as their own when it was convenient: such as to ensure settlement with aboriginal groups as the federal government pushed forward in the 1800s with its dream of building a trans-Canada railway.
The case on aboriginal rights for non-status and Métis was brought forward by a handful of individuals and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, which was formed in 1971 to advocate for non-status Indians and Métis.
Webber said the non-status and Métis can now pursue rights that flow from the Constitution as a result of last Thursday’s decision.
“They’ll be able to negotiate with the government for programming and services, and who knows what else?” he said. “They are going to be treated by law as status Indians.”
Webber said the door is open now for non-status and Métis to look at resource revenue-sharing and the like.
There’s no question the decision will impact on negotiations for the financial transfer arrangements with the 11 self-governing First Nations, he said.
“I have heard there is a few chiefs talking about it already.”
Christianson said the 2006 census showed that 800 Yukoners identified as Métis, though that doesn’t mean they’ll all have the required documentation to proof their heritage.
But he suspects the decision will prompt some to begin pursuing the proof they’ll need.
He said there are just under 200 active members of the Métis Nation of the Yukon.
The decision paves the way to discuss issues like support for educational pursuits, hunting rights and things like not having to pay for hunting licences, rights that are now afforded status Indians, he said.
“Things will take time, and we’ll just have to see where this goes,” Christianson said. “But this is very, very exciting news.”
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