Recent developments in relations with aboriginal peoples – the prime minister’s meeting with First Nations leaders, the protest by Chief Theresa Spence, who is on a liquid fast, and especially the Idle No more demonstrations – are likely to be significant. But equally important to this relationship is the ground-breaking decision of Federal Court Judge Michael Phelan in the Daniels case. That decision held that federal jurisdiction over “Indians and Land Reserved for Indians” in the 1867 Constitution Act included authority over all aboriginal peoples.
This decision has come after decades of refusal by the federal government to accept that Métis and “non-status Indians” are within federal constitutional power. In federal states, such as Canada, governments normally fight to defend or expand their jurisdictions. But not in this case. The federal government, for instance, accepted constitutional responsibility for the Inuit only after the Supreme Court ordered that jurisdiction over “Indians” must include the Inuit.