Métis win historic land dispute ruling in Supreme Court

Métis sought remedy for 1870 land deal settling Red River Rebellion

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the federal government failed in its obligations to the Métis people.

A legal challenge by the Manitoba Métis Federation sought recognition and a potential remedy for the treatment of its people after the 1870 government land deal that ended the Red River Rebellion.

Today's decision has not ordered any particular remedies, but it could potentially open the door to land-claim negotiations or talks toward other forms of compensation from the federal government.

The ruling concludes three decades of legal challenges by the Métis against the federal government.

The Métis argued that Ottawa reneged on the promises it made to the Métis under the Manitoba Act, which created the province and brought it into Confederation.

The Manitoba Act, made in 1870, promised to set aside 5,565 square kilometres of land for 7,000 children of the Red River Métis. That land includes what is now the city of Winnipeg.

The land deal was made in order to settle the Red River Rebellion, which was fought by Métis rebels struggling to hold onto their land amid growing white settlements.

However, it took 15 years for the lands to be completely distributed, while the Métis rebels faced hostility from large numbers of incoming settlers.

The federal government ultimately distributed the land through a random lottery, destroying the dream of a Métis homeland.

In 2010, the Manitoba Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling that found the federal government did not violate its duty to the Métis.

The case then went to the Supreme Court of Canada, where lawyers for both sides presented their arguments in December 2011.

The Métis federation requested a declaration that the constitutional agreement was not upheld.

Federal lawyers argued that the case should be thrown out because it is more than a century old. They also said Ottawa didn't actually violate its side of the agreement.

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