OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper should kick start negotiations with the Manitoba Metis Federation after Canada's top court ruled land grants have been withheld for 142 years, the aboriginal organization said Friday.
In a 6-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled the Crown failed to properly hand out land grants that were promised to the Manitoba Metis as part of the Red River Settlement of 1870.
"This is a new beginning for us ... our time has come. This is it," said Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) president David Chartrand, who has been engaged in the challenge for 17 years. "I am hoping the prime minister will commit what he said — the West wants in. I'm the West and I want in."
The decision now opens the door for a massive land claim to 1.4-million acres that includes a large swath of southern Manitoba and Winnipeg.
The MMF led the legal challenge over land promised to about 7,000 Metis children as part of the deal which convinced rebels led by Louis Riel to put an end to the Red River Rebellion and opened the door for Manitoba to enter Confederation.
"This was not a matter of occasional negligence, but of repeated mistakes and inaction that persisted," the court's ruling states. "A government sincerely intent on fulfilling the duty that its honour demanded could and should have done better."
The Supreme Court also indicated the terms of this promise were not upheld and a "constitutional grievance" is at issue.
"So long as the issue remains outstanding, the goal of reconciliation and constitutional harmony ... remains unachieved," the ruling states. "The unfinished business of reconciliation of the Metis people with Canadian sovereignty is a matter of national and constitutional importance."
Chartrand and supporters, who characterize the ruling as a great victory, plan to visit Riel's tomb in Winnipeg on Saturday.
Riel, who is perceived as a spiritual hero by the Metis, led the Red River Rebellion in an attempt to preserve lands and culture.
Crown lawyers had argued the case should be thrown out of court because of how old it is.
Thomas Berger, a longtime lawyer for the Metis group, said the ruling should launch talks to "remedy a historic wrong."
"That is what Canada is all about. We don't leave a trail of historic wreckage behind us," Berger said.
The federal government said it was in the midst of reviewing the court decision Friday.