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Métis Honor Anniversary of Landmark Rights Decision

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On September 19, 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Métis, as a distinct aboriginal group, had legal harvesting rights.

The landmark case capped a 20-year battle to get Métis rights recognized along with those of other aboriginals as laid out in section 35 of the 1982 Constitution Act, according to the Métis of Alberta and the Métis National Council (MNC).

The court’s unanimous decision affirmed that Section 35 of the act applies not only to First Nations and Inuit but also to Métis. Although Section 35 ostensibly included the Métis, who are descendants of colonial fur traders and Indians, the latter group found themselves struggling for the same level of recognition as their Inuit and First Nations counterparts.

For the next two decades, Section 35 “remained largely an unfulfilled promise to the Métis Nation, with governments in Canada taking the position that the Métis had no existing Aboriginal rights protected by s. 35; thereby, refusing to negotiate or deal with the Métis people and their rights,” the MNC says on its website. “In response to these steadfast federal and provincial government positions, beginning in the early 1990s, the Métis Nation began its ‘hunt for justice’ in the courts, in order to attempt to breathe life into the constitutional commitment made in 1982.”

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R. v. Powley, as the case was known, was heard in March 2003. It involved a hunter and his moose haul. According to the MNC, Steve and Roddy Powley, a father and son, had been charged with hunting moose without a license after they killed a bull moose near Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, in 1993. They were also charged with unlawful possession of moose, in violation of Ontario’s Game and Fish Act. They went to court, which ruled in their favor in 1998, but the Crown kept at it, and kept losing. The Crown’s final loss came before the Supreme Court.

“The Powley decision marks a new day for the Métis Nation in Canada,” the MNC site says. “The Supreme Court’s decision is a respectful affirmation of what the Métis people have always believed and stood up for, as well as, an opportunity for Canada to begin fulfilling its substantive promise to the Métis.”

Here, some toe-tappin' footage of the Métis Fall Festival square dancing competition in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.