11/05/2013 10:48 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 10:52 EST

First Nations win major legal battle over welfare changes

Mi’kmaq leaders in the Maritimes have won a major legal victory against the federal government.

Federal Court Justice Andre F. J. Scott has quashed unilateral changes to how social assistance works on reserves.

Earlier this year, a coalition of chiefs across the Maritimes won an injunction against the changes while the Federal Court considered the case.

The federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development had ordered the Mi'kmaq bands to bring their social assistance rates in line with provincial standards.

On the Indian Brook First Nation in Nova Scotia a single parent with two children receives $293 in social assistance every two weeks. The proposed changes to federal rates would have cut that by 39 per cent.

The bands argued the changes are unfair because recipients on reserves can't access provincial programs available in non-native communities.

Justice Scott said First Nations have a right to meaningful consultation on this issue. He said, in this case, the federal government made its decision before consultations were held.

Scott said the aboriginal affairs department never assessed the impact of the changes, or collected hard data on how many people would lose their entitlement to social assistance as a result.