A Federal Court ruling delivered January 8 obligates the Canadian government to expand its definition of rights-bearing Aboriginals to include Métis and non-status Indians.

Federal Court Justice Michael Phelan stated in his decision the government should eliminate the “constitutional uncertainty surrounding these groups,” which affect about 600,000 people.

The decision, which caps a 13-year legal battle, affords clear negotiating rights with the federal government. Until now, these groups found themselves in a grey area between provincial and federal jurisdiction, and expressed frustration with being sent back and forth between governments.

Betty Ann Lavallée, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples’ National Chief, called it “a very hopeful day for all off-reserve Aboriginal peoples. This is huge and it ends the denial of Aboriginal birthrights that has existed for far too long among off-reserve Métis and Non-Status Indians. This ruling makes it very clear that Metis and Non-Status Indians fall under federal jurisdiction.”

Though Justice Phelan stopped short of defining financial obligations the federal government has to these new groups, the decision is expected to significantly increase the amount of money going to Aboriginal groups. It is also expected to cause a spike in application for recognition as a Métis or Indian.

The federal government is expected to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.