Who is Harry Daniels?
Harry Daniels, a charismatic Métis leader, was born on Sept. 16, 1940, in Regina Beach, Sask., and died on Sept. 6, 2004 in Regina at the age of 63. He worked for many years on the local, national and international levels on behalf of Aboriginal peoples. His contribution is significant and his legacy is still unfolding.
Mr. Daniels was president of the Native Council of Canada (the NCC) later to become the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples from 1975 to 1981 and again between 1997 and 2000. The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples is the national voice for Métis, Southern Inuit, Status and Non-Status Indians across Canada. As president Mr. Daniels played a leading role in ensuring Aboriginal and treaty rights were recognized in the Constitution Act, 1982 and more specifically in negotiating the inclusion of the Métis people.
Harry Daniels challenged the notion of the two founding nations of Canada, being English and French. In 1978 before the Task Force on Canadian Unity he declared that the Métis, by virtue of the actions of the Red River Government were “the only charter group in Canada with a history of national political independence before joining confederation.”[i]
Mr. Daniels considered the Métis people to be a distinct cultural group that combined old world European cultures with new world cultures to create a new culturally distinct people. This is a concept that has been taken further by John Ralston Saul in his book, A Fair Country: Telling Truths about Canada. As Canada moves forward with multiculturalism more and more ethnic groups are inter-marrying to create mixed ancestry children. The Métis were the first distinct new cultural group and are a historical national minority group in Canada and as such are a founding nation within Canada. The well-known Canadian professor and political philosopher, Will Kymlicka, in his book Politics in the Vernacular, discusses the concept of national minority groups and specifically address their role within a multicultural state. Harry was ahead of his time with this thinking.
The Constitution of 1982
The importance of the inclusion of the Métis people in the definition of Aboriginal peoples of Canada in the Constitution Act of 1982 cannot be underestimated. Part II Section 35 (2) states: In this Act, “Aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada. This simple statement represents more than a hundred years of struggle and countless hours of work by Aboriginal leaders, the NCC and by Harry Daniels. This simple statement enshrined in our Constitution has significant importance for the future of all the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.
The Court Challenge
Although Harry’s life was cut short, his fight for justice for Métis and non-status Indians has not ended. An action before the Federal Court was launched in 1999 by Harry Daniels and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. The case entitled (Daniels v. Canada) sought recognition of three basic principles, in that:
- Métis and Non-Status Indians (MNSI) are Indians under subsection 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867,
- The Crown owes to Métis and Non-Status Indians a fiduciary duty as Aboriginal peoples,
- Canada must negotiate and consult with the Métis and Non-Status Indians, on a collective basis through representatives of their choice, with respect to their rights, interests and needs as Aboriginal peoples.
Historic Court Decision – 2013
The Landmark Court Ruling on January 8, 2013 by the Federal Court affirms the belief that Harry Daniels and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples had; that Metis and Non-Status are Indians under the Constitution. With this Historic Ruling, this is a significant time in history for all Métis and Non-Status Indians. (Read The Federal Decision Here)
Following an appeal by the Government of Canada, on October 29, 2014, the Federal Court of Appeal heard arguments from all interested parties. The Appeal Court will render its decision on April 17, 2014, almost 15 years since the court case first began.
Whatever the final outcome of the court case, it is a culmination of a lifetime of work by Harry Daniels and his search for social justice for Métis and Non-Status Indian people of Canada.
A video is posted outlining the life and achievements of Harry Daniels told by people who knew him well.
APTN INVESTIGATES details the life of Harry Daniels, his contributions and the legacy he left behind.