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Canada Indigenous-rights activist Harry Daniels laid foundation for Supreme Court ruling

Gabriel Daniels, son of the late Harry Daniels, reacts as he leaves the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on Thursday following their unanimously ruling that Metis and non-status are Indians under the Constitution.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously on Thursday in the case of Harry Daniels v. Her Majesty the Queen that the Métis and non-status Indians are "Indians" within the meaning of Canada's 1867 Constitution, setting the stage for possible negotiations over land, education and health programs. Here are some facts about the case.

Who was Harry Daniels?

The late Harry Daniels was a trailblazing indigenous-rights advocate in Canada. Known for being a passionate negotiator, he laid the bedrock for many gains concerning Métis and non-status Indians.

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He co-founded the Métis Society of Saskatchewan and the Native Council of Canada, which became the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

It was with this organization that he represented Métis, non-status and status Indians, along with southern Inuit. In addition to Thursday's ruling, Mr. Daniels was behind other landmark victories for the Métis, including recognition in Section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982, which recognizes and affirms aboriginal rights.

He also wrote books, taught at the University of Saskatchewan and received an honorary degree from the University of Ottawa. Mr. Daniels was born in Regina Beach, Sask., in 1940 and died in 2004 in Regina.

Who are the Métis?

The Métis are a distinct group of indigenous people spread out across the country, especially in the West, without the privilege of Indian status. Their lineage is a mixture of First Nations blood and that of British, French or other Europeans. Since the era of Confederation, they haven't been considered "Indians" in the legal sense. Because of this, they did not share similar rights granted to other indigenous people.

Louis Riel, a Métis, led an armed resistance against Sir John A. Macdonald's policies of western expansion that were infringing on Métis territory in the Prairies during the 19th century. He was tried for treason and was condemned to death by hanging in 1885.

Who are non-status Indians?

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Non-status Indians are indigenous people who do not fall under Ottawa's jurisdiction. People could lose their status for a number of reasons, including if a First Nations woman married a non-indigenous man, or if an indigenous person voluntarily forfeited their status or received a university education.

According to the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, there are 450,000 Métis and roughly 220,000 non-status Indians in Canada.

What does the ruling mean?

The Supreme Court's ruling could bring about a sea change for the two groups, who have been marginalized since the time of Confederation. This shift could signal more federally sponsored services and benefits granted to the groups, a place at the table during land claim and treaty negotiations, and hunting rights.

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