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Sioux Valley elders stage legislature protest

The first aboriginal community to earn self government in Manitoba made a rare public display Tuesday — with a protest on the steps of the provincial legislature.

Six women elders from Sioux Valley drove nearly 300 kilometres to stand silently at the legislature.

They held placards with a list of grievances and social problems in the community and spoke quietly and articulately about their concerns.

They introduced themselves as part of the local government in the community, one they insisted is ignored by the local chief.

The group members, who said they are known as the 'Kunshis' or grandmothers, have concerns about community’s financial management, a lack of freedom of speech in the community, poor housing and chronic suicides.

"We’re in a crisis situation," said Joyce Wasicuna.

"We want the public to know and we want the politicians to know that things are not right. Everything is not all rosy at Sioux Valley," she said.

The Sioux Valley Dakota Nation in western Manitoba became the premier First Nation in Manitoba to be granted self-government powers in federal legislation earlier this year.

The Selinger government introduced a bill to recognize self-government rights at Sioux Valley in March. Once passed, the twin federal and provincial laws will mark a new era of independence for the western Manitoba community of about 2,500.

But the protest showed there are growing pains in Sioux Valley.

In July, the community expects to officially launch its self-government with the arrival of $80 million in federal government funding.

The elders worry the community will blow the windfall.

Chief Vincent Tacan, reached later Tuesday, said he was aware of the protest and of the women’s concerns.

The group that drove to Winnipeg has no authority in the local government, he said.

"They don’t speak for a majority of the people here," Tacan said.

He said the community is well-positioned to take on self government.

Sioux Valley has had three unqualified federal audits in the past four years; there are regular community meetings on financial and self-government issues and the community has met strict federal regulations to qualify for self-government.

"The federal government isn’t going to hand over a big pot of money to somebody who can’t manage it," he said.

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