Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Metis Definition:

A term of Canadian aboriginal law referring to an individual with mixed white and Indian blood.

Related Terms: Indian, Aboriginal, Inuit, Mixed Blood

Metis, or Métis as properly spelled, benefit from no national definition as a group and, as such, fall short of Canadian federal recognition for the purposes of statutory benefits.

In his 1999 treatise, Shin Imai wrote, with some unfortunate choices of political adjectives:

"The federal government still refuses to recognize the Métis as a people under federal jurisdiction. Consequently, Métis have not received the benefits of federal programs, a federal land base, or adequate recognition in the land claims process."

This, even though the Canadian Constitution, 1982, defines aboriginal people at §35 as follows:

"In this Act, aboriginal peoples of Canada includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada."

Historically, Métis was used for those who were of French-Canadian and Indian ancestry. For those who could claim mixed English-Canadian and Indian ancestry, the term half-breed was used.

Even amongst the aboriginal interest groups, there is acceptance as to the definition of Métis. In Native Law (2010), Jack Woodward notes:

"The Native Council of Canada emphasized self-identification whereas the Métis National Council, which split off from the Native Council in 1983, asserts that there is a single Métis nation."

The ultimate question is usually: how much Indian blood is required for the status of Métis? This author's Iroquois great-great-grand-mother pictured: does that suffice to make him Métis?

Where necessary, jurisdiction have provided a statutory definition such as this, from the 1978 regulations made pursuant to the Fisheries Act, the 1978 Alberta Fishery Regulations, §2(1):

"Métis means a person of mixed white and Indian blood having not less than one-quarter Indian blood, but does not include an Indian or a non-treaty Indian as defined in the Indian Act."

Canada's Supreme Court tried to solve this by requiring a vague criteria which some jurists1 have rephrased as a sufficient and substantial connection of Indian ancestry. This solved nothing as the 2003 case R v Powley left jurists scratching their heads by adopting these words, resulting in a circular definition (¶10-12):

"A Métis community can be defined as a group of Métis with a distinctive collective identity, living together in the same geographic area and sharing a common way of life.

"The term Métis in §35 does not encompass all individuals with mixed Indian and European heritage; rather, it refers to distinctive peoples who, in addition to their mixed ancestry, developed their own customs, way of life, and recognizable group identity separate from their Indian or Inuit and European forebears.

"Métis communities evolved and flourished prior to the entrenchment of European control, when the influence of European settlers and political institutions became pre-eminent....

"Intermarriage between First Nations and Inuit women and European fur traders and fishermen produced children, but the birth of new Aboriginal cultures took longer. At first, the children of mixed unions were brought up in the traditions of their mothers or (less often) their fathers. Gradually, however, distinct Métis cultures emerged, combining European and First Nations or Inuit heritages in unique ways. Economics played a major role in this process. The special qualities and skills of the Métis population made them indispensable members of Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal economic partnerships, and that association contributed to the shaping of their cultures.... As interpreters, diplomats, guides, couriers, freighters, traders and suppliers, the early Métis people contributed massively to European penetration of North America.

"The French referred to the fur trade Métis as coureurs de bois (forest runners) and bois brulés (burnt-wood people) in recognition of their wilderness occupations and their dark complexions. The Labrador Métis (whose culture had early roots) were originally called livyers or settlers, those who remained in the fishing settlements year-round rather than returning periodically to Europe or Newfoundland. The Cree people expressed the Métis character in the term Otepayemsuak, meaning the independent ones.

"The Métis developed separate and distinct identities, not reducible to the mere fact of their mixed ancestry. What distinguishes Métis people from everyone else is that they associate themselves with a culture that is distinctly Métis."2

Hence, this from Jack Woodward, circa 2010:

"Canadian law is not clear about the distinction, if any, to be drawn between Métis people and other Canadians of mixed Indian and non-Indian descent."

In R v Daigle, the accused raised §35 of the Constitution in his defence. Justice Leger of the Court of Queen's Bench went on a wild ride through time (ten generations) to suggest that not only was Daniel Daigle not Indian; he did not qualify as aboriginal either under the rubric of Métis:

"The appellant now claims protection under §35 as an aboriginal. If the appellant is not a Métis, he must then establish that he is either an Indian or an Inuit if he is to benefit from the protection offered by s. 35 of the Act.

"The trial judge found that the appellant’s closest full-blooded aboriginal person was Marie Aubois. According to the evidence, there are 10 generations between Marie Aubois and the appellant Daniel Daigle....

"I find that the appellant has clearly failed to establish that he is entitled to the benefit of §35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 either as a Métis and Indian or an Inuit.

"The appellant has not established a sufficient and substantial connection of Indian ancestry for him to be entitled to the benefit of s. 35 of the Act."

REFERENCES:

  • Alberta Fishery Regulations1978 CRC Chapter 838 (Volume VII), at page 5272
  • Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (U.K.), 1982, c. 11, §35(2)
  • Imai, S., Aboriginal Law Handbook (Toronto: Carswell, 1999), page 83
  • R v Daigle, 2004 NBQB 79 (Note 1)
  • R. v. Powley, 2003 SCC 43. Note 2: ¶12 is presented before ¶10-11 so as to present the actual proposed definition first as at ¶12, followed by the historical background at 10-11.
  • Woodward, J., Native Law (Toronto: Carswell, 2010), volume 1, pages

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