11/20/2014 09:50 EST | Updated 01/20/2015 05:59 EST

Supreme Court To Hear Landmark Case Involving Metis, Non-Status Indians

OTTAWA - The question of whether the federal government has the same responsibility to the country's Metis and non-status Indians as it does to status Indians and Inuit has fallen to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The eventual outcome of the case could vastly extend the federal government's jurisdiction to hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal Peoples.

Or it could overturn a historic victory.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear appeals from both sides in a case started 15 years ago by Metis leader Harry Daniels. As usual, the court did not give reasons for its decision to hear the case.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, along with several Metis and non-status Indians, took the federal government to court in 1999, alleging discrimination because they were not considered "Indians" under a section of the Constitution Act and thus have been denied certain rights.

Both the Metis and non-status Indians scored a major win last year when the Federal Court recognized them as "Indians" under a section of the Constitution. The federal government appealed that ruling.

Earlier this year, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld part of the decision. It ruled that while Metis should remain Indians under a section of the Constitution, extending that recognition to non-status Indians as a whole should be done on a case-by-case basis.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples — which represents both non-status Indians and Metis — appealed that ruling.

So did the federal government. It claims both lower courts were wrong to extend that recognition to the Metis — while also arguing the appeals court got it right when it ruled that non-status Indians as a whole should not be considered Indians under a section of the Constitution.

The head of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples welcomed the Supreme Court's decision to hear the appeals.

"This is an important step in the long struggle begun by my predecessor as national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Harry Daniels," National Chief Betty Ann Lavallee said in a statement.

"The decision of the Court of Appeal was flawed in our view, as it drew an unhelpful distinction between the federal government's responsibility for non-status Indians and its responsibilities toward Metis peoples and status Indians."

The Supreme Court also gave the Metis National Council, which is a intervener to the case, more time to file its own response to both appeals.

The council wanted the federal government to drop its appeal and start working out an agreement with the Metis people.

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