Karine Martel’s ancestors had Scrip land not far from the University of Manitoba’s Fort Garry campus, right in the homeland of the Métis nation. Now, she has come home to study a landmark Supreme Court case that could affect the future of Métis people in Canada.
Two years ago, Karine Martel was at home in St-Pierre-Jolys, Manitoba for winter break. She had been studying at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and was surprised to hear her family discussing the recent Daniels v. Canada case. The Supreme Court was considering whether the Métis are a federal responsibility, which would significantly impact the lives of the Métis going forward. As a Métis person with a passion for law, who happened to be looking for a graduate thesis topic, Karine felt like the answer had fallen in her lap.
Section 91(24) of the Constitution states that the federal government has power over “Indians and lands reserved for the Indians”. The Provincial and Federal governments had denied their responsibility over the Métis for years, which made it impossible for the Métis to discuss important issues, such as rights and land claims, with the federal government.
The media portrayed the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision to include the Métis in their definitions of “Indians”, alongside First Nations and Inuit people, as a victory. Some scholars have already expressed concern that the decision may not further Métis rights, however, because as Karine points out, “it will take many years to determine the full implications.”
After reading the trial opinion, Karine quickly realized that although the case concerned Métis people and was based on Métis history, the Métis people were conspicuously absent from the discussion. The Daniels case displayed an image of Métis people that did not match with Karine’s perception of herself, and she found that much of the court’s discussion of historical events was from a colonial perspective.
Karine’s thesis will be the first in-depth study of the Daniels decision and its aftermath. It will critically examine the Daniels question from an Indigenous and decolonizing framework, and will attempt to explain what the possible outcomes could mean for the Métis, like her and her family, going forward.
Karine’s ancestors had Scrip land not far from the Fort Garry Campus, so studying the Daniels case at the University of Manitoba is like her research coming full circle. She is proud to study Métis law right in the heart of the Métis homeland under the guidance of her supervisor Peter Kulchyski.
The faculty at the Department of Native Studies was a major factor in Karine’s decision to attend the University of Manitoba. Teachers including Dr. Emma LaRocque and Niigaan Sinclair have been particular inspirations. Her grandmother is always sending her CBC articles by Niigaan Sinclair, and Karine came across a book by Fred Shore, one of her committee members, in a book shop during a recent visit to Victoria.
She hopes one day to go to law school, and she likes that her current research allows her “to engage with the law, but from a Native Studies perspective”. This thesis project gives her the opportunity to bring her training as a Native Studies scholar, her passion for law and her own experience as a Métis person to her research.
Karine has recently moved to northern Manitoba, where she is a visitor to Treaty 5 territory. When she is not busy writing her thesis, she loves to spend her time fishing, snowmobiling and hiking with her partner and her dog.