Who are Aboriginal Peoples? And Why are We Asking this Question? – Marilyn Poitras (37:58)

8:55 – 10:30  Who are Aboriginal Peoples?  And Why are We Asking this Question?


  • Professor Marilyn Poitras, College of Law, University of Saskatchewan


  • Mr. Jason T. Madden, Partner, Pape Salter Teillet LLP, Toronto and Vancouver
  • Professor Winona Wheeler, Associate Professor and Department Head, College of Arts and Science, University of Saskatchewan

In Lovelace v. Ontario [2000] 1 SCR 950, Iacobucci J, speaking for the Court, noted:  “There are important differences among First Nations bands, Métis communities and non-band First Nations, and as stated by L’Heureux-Dubé, in Corbiere v. Canada (Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs),[1999] 2 S.C.R. 203 at para. 94,“[t]aking into account, recognizing, and affirming differences between groups in a manner that respects and values their dignity and difference are not only legitimate, but necessary considerations in ensuring that substantive equality is present in Canadian society.”

In recent years, Canadian society has started to recognize the harm that has been caused by the racist attitudes of the past, particularly with respect to Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. However, distinctions between different groups of people in our society remain embedded in our law and, indeed, in our Constitution.

In this panel, we will explore the continuing significance of these distinctions.  We will begin by providing an understanding of who Canada’s Aboriginal peoples are, their similarities and their differences and some of the difficulties of coming up with clear definitions. We will then discuss some of the implications of characterization as Indian, Inuit or Metis both in terms of determining whether federal or provincial law applies to specific activities and in terms of determining an individual’s ability to exercise specific Aboriginal rights and/or Treaty rights.