Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada reversed several lower court decisions giving Canada’s Métis an historic victory that found the federal government failed to honour a promise it made to the Métis people 140 years ago.
The legal challenge brought by Justice Thomas Berger on behalf of the Manitoba Métis Federation, sought recognition for the treatment of its people after the 1870 government land deal that ended the Red River rebellion.
In a 6-2 ruling, the Supreme Court declared that, “the Federal Crown failed to implement the land grant provision set out in s.31 of the Manitoba Act, 1870 in accordance with the honour of the Crown.”
The ruling explained that the federal government “acted with persistent inattention and failed to act diligently,” and that it “could and should have done better.”
“This was not a matter of occasional negligence, but of repeated mistakes and inaction that persisted for more than a decade,” the ruling stated. “The unfinished business of reconciliation of the Métis people with Canadian sovereignty is a matter of national and constitutional import,” it read.
The ruling ended three decades of legal challenges brought by the Métis against the federal government and could open the door to land claim negotiations or other forms of compensation from the federal government.
The Métis argued that Ottawa did not honour its promises under the Manitoba Act, which created the province, bringing it into Confederation.
The Manitoba Act of 1870, promised to give 5,565 square kilometres of land for 7,000 children of the Red River Métis. That land includes what is now the city of Winnipeg.
Recently, the man who successfully argued this case, Justice Thomas Berger, addressed a packed house at the University of Winnipeg’s Convocation Hall.
Berger’s knowledge of this subject is impressive, and he began his talk on February 10, 2014, with a snapshot of life in Canada back in 1867, a history many Manitobans do not know.
Special thanks to Micheal Welch, News Director at CKUW for this audio, and to John Vandale of the Manitoba Métis Federation for these photographs.