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In 1982, after generations of fighting for justice, the existing Aboriginal and Treaty rights of Canada¡¯s Aboriginal peoples received constitutional protection.
Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 provides:
This constitutional protection was a victory for all Aboriginal peoples in Canada. For the M¨¦tis Nation, the explicit inclusion of the M¨¦tis in s. 35 was viewed as a new beginning after over 100 years of denial, avoidance and neglect by governments in Canada. Even within the Parliament of Canada, section 35 was described as a ¡°political watershed¡± and a ¡°turning point for the status of native peoples¡± in Canada.
The promise of this 1982 recognition of the M¨¦tis Nation remained largely unfilled until very recently,? with governments in Canada taking the position that the M¨¦tis had no existing Aboriginal rights protected by s. 35 and refusing to negotiate or deal with the M¨¦tis people and their rights.
In response to these steadfast federal and provincial government positions and? beginning in the early 1990s, the M¨¦tis Nation began its ¡®hunt for justice¡¯ by defending its citizens and their rights in the courts, as a way of breathing life into the constitutional commitment made to the M¨¦tis in 1982.
As a part of this on-going ¡®hunt for justice¡¯, R. v. Powley [¡°Powley¡±] was heard by the Supreme Court of Canada in March, 2003. Powley was the first case to bring the issues of the purpose of s. 35 to the M¨¦tis and the question of whether the M¨¦tis have existing Aboriginal rights, before the highest court in Canada.
On September 19, 2003, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court affirmed what the M¨¦tis people have been saying for over twenty years - s. 35 is a substantive promise to the M¨¦tis which recognizes their distinct existence and protects their existing Aboriginal rights. The Powley decision marked a new day for the M¨¦tis Nation in Canada. The Supreme Court¡¯s decision was respectful affirmation of what the M¨¦tis people have always believed and stood up for, and is as? well as, an opportunity? for Canada to begin fulfilling its substantive promise to the M¨¦tis.