Three years after the Supreme Court unanimously determined that First Nations people without Indian status are still “Indians” within the meaning of Canada’s 1867 Constitution, the organization that represents them says the federal government has been unwilling to discuss what rights and benefits should flow from that decision.
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP), which speaks for a number of Indigenous groups, including roughly 220,000 non-status First Nations people living off reserves, will hold a day of protest in Ottawa Thursday. The demonstrations have been organized to demand that the federal government live up to the terms of the 2016 Daniels decision which found that the term “Indians,” as it was written into the law at the time of Confederation, includes all Indigenous people.
Status Indians are entitled to a number of government-funded benefits, including supplementary health coverage, some tax exemptions and funding for postsecondary education. But Robert Bertrand, a former Liberal MP who is now the National Chief of the CAP, says the government has demonstrated no interest in putting the Supreme Court decision into effect by extending those benefits to his members.
“Nothing has happened,” Mr. Bertrand said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “It is a disgrace to set aside a decision like that and this is just the straw that broke the camel’s back because CAP is being pushed aside.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in 2016 that the Supreme Court decision would have consequences across the country and that his government would engage with Indigenous leaders to determine the path forward.
Mr. Bertrand said that, when CAP officials met with Mr. Trudeau in the months after the Daniels decision, the Prime Minister promised he would continue meeting with them on an annual basis. But that has not happened, Mr. Bertrand said. “We have written to him. We’ve got copies of letters we have sent to him. And he doesn’t even bother to answer us."
Mr. Bertrand said the CAP meets every couple of weeks with federal bureaucrats, but nothing comes out of those meetings.
Requests for comment that were put to the Prime Minister’s Office Wednesday were redirected to the department of Crown-Indigenous Relations, which said in an e-mail that the government is committed to ensuring that the views, priorities and aspirations of those affected by the Daniels litigation are heard.
The Supreme Court decision, which ended a case that had been before the courts since 1999, also applied to the 450,000 members of Canada’s Métis community. In 2017, the government signed an accord with the Métis, which Métis leaders described as groundbreaking, and which established priorities that would improve the lives of their people.
A similar accord was signed last December with the CAP that the department of Crown-Indigenous Relations said is intended to identify joint priorities and co-develop policy to improve the socio-economic conditions of the CAP’s constituents. But, unlike the Métis accord, Mr. Bertrand said, the agreement signed with the CAP was not followed with any funding.
When the Liberal government has met with Indigenous leaders, he said, it has invited the heads of the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis Nation, but the CAP has been excluded.
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples was founded in 1971 as the Native Council of Canada. It was originally established to represent the interests of Métis and non-status Indians, but, after a reorganization and name change in 1993, it claimed a constituency that includes off-reserve status and non-status Indians, Métis and southern Inuit.
“Why has the federal government closed its eyes” on the implementation of the Daniels decision for non-status Indians? Mr. Bertrand asked. "I can tell you, the generation that is growing up, that will be taking over CAP, they are not as easy-going as we are right now. I can feel it. We are having a day of action to tell the government: ‘Hey guys, wake up before it’s too late.'”