The president of the N.W.T. Métis Nation is welcoming changes to the qualifying criteria to a territorial health benefit specifically for Métis.
The Métis Health Benefit provides eligible Indigenous Métis access to a range of benefits like dental and medication coverage.
Under the previous eligibility criteria, Métis first had to apply and be rejected for federal Indian Status before being eligible for the territorial program. That's no longer the case.
"A lot of us probably could become a treaty Indian," said Garry Bailey, president of the N.W.T. Métis Nation. "But … we identify as Métis people. And under the United [Nations] Declaration, we have our right to self-identify."
Now, self-identifying Métis who are either a member of an Indigenous government or of an Indigenous organization in the territory are eligible for the benefits.
"This change will support Indigenous governments' and … organizations' role as the representative of their members in exercising self-determination," a release from the territorial government announcing the change reads.
'A win … but it's only halfway there'
Bailey said the old policy meant a lot of members, especially children, were falling between the cracks and not getting any health benefits.
He said the new rules will stop the outflow of members to other Indigenous nations eligible for 100 per cent coverage under federal programs.
"We've lost them, they jumped ship," he said.
"You can't blame them. They need dental and eye care."
The new benefits will be funded by the territorial government, not the Non-Insured Health Benefits program that provides health coverage to eligible Inuit and First Nations residents.
Bailey said the territory really "stepped up to the plate" in ensuring Métis can receive comparable coverage to other Indigenous groups.
"It's a win for us for sure, but it's only halfway there," he said.
Bailey said the next step is to ensure benefits cover 100 per cent of costs for eye care and medical equipment.
He is also still calling on the N.W.T. and federal government to implement the Daniels decision, which recognized Métis as having Indian status under Canadian law.
Bailey said those looking to apply for the benefit and in need of assistance can reach out to him personally.