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Jean Teillet 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:
35 (1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.
(2) In this Act, ¡°aboriginal peoples of Canada¡± includes the Indian, Inuit and M¨¦tis peoples of Canada.
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.
Unfortunately, true recognition of the M¨¦tis under this constitutional protection remained largely unfilled. For some time governments in Canada took the position that M¨¦tis had no existing Aboriginal rights protected by s. 35 and refused to negotiate with the M¨¦tis people regarding their rights.
In the early 1990¡¯s, in response to these steadfast government positions, the M¨¦tis Nation began its ¡®hunt for justice¡¯ by defending its citizens and their rights in the courts, forcing life into the constitutional commitment made in 1982.
As a part of this ¡®hunt for justice¡¯, R. v. Powley [¡°Powley¡±] was heard by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2003. It was the first time questions relating to the purpose of s. 35 with regards to the M¨¦tis and the existing Aboriginal rights of M¨¦tis were considered by the highest court in Canada.
On September 19, 2003, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court affirmed what the M¨¦tis people had 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 decision was a respectful affirmation of what the M¨¦tis people have always believed and stood up for,as? well as an opportunity? for Canada to begin fulfilling its substantive promise to the M¨¦tis.