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Sioux Valley Manitoba's first self-governed First Nation

In 1898, three frustrated farmers from Sioux Valley made an arduous trip to Ottawa to talk sense to power.

They wanted to sell their own hay, raise their own cattle and make a living, like any other Prairie farmer.

They would wait a long time, but Wednesday their great-grandchildren won the freedom those three men sought more than a century ago.

With the stroke of a pen in Ottawa, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation became the first aboriginal reserve on the Prairies to win self-government.

The Sioux Valley Dakota Self Government Agreement represents the first taste of economic freedom for the farming community of about 1,000 people southwest of Brandon since the Indian Act was passed more than a century ago.

In Winnipeg, the federal proclamation means provincial legislation can be introduced to give recognition to a companion tripartite agreement on self-government signed last summer among the two levels of government and the Dakota community.

The province has drafted legislation to recognize the new self-government powers, and the Selinger government expects to introduce it later this month, a spokesman said earlier this week.

Work on the agreement began with negotiations 20 years ago. There was a flourish last summer, with a formal signing ceremony. Before that, 64 per cent of the community voted in favour of self-government in a 2012 referendum.

The deal puts health care, housing, policing, child welfare and economic development under community control and is reported to be worth between $80 million and $85 million over five years.

Sioux Valley Chief Vincent Tacan was not available for comment but last week he told senators in Ottawa the Indian Act crippled his community and gutted its efforts to attract business.

"No one will come right out and say 'Your reserve isn't stable as a result of the lack of laws, policies, leases and these sorts of things,' but I knew that was the reason things didn't turn out," the chief said in his Senate testimony.

Tacan referred to a deal Sioux Valley offered a manufacturer of holding tanks for Manitoba's oil patch: the use of a building and job-training dollars to subsidize hiring workers in an effort to lure work to the reserve. The manufacturer desperately needed a third shift to ramp up work to meet demand and didn't have the space or the resources on his own.

Tacan said he couldn't get the manufacturer to agree, no matter how he sweetened the deal.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said the biggest change for Sioux Valley will be the freedom it gains, now that it's free of the Indian Act and its antiquated restrictions. "On their own First Nation land, they will be masters of their own development and their future," the minister said from Ottawa.

There are two main agreements that set out self-government authority for Sioux Valley. The first is the government agreement with Canada that sets out a government-to-government relationship with Sioux Valley. The second is the tripartite agreement with Ottawa and the province. It formalizes recognition of the community's new powers and makes Manitoba a party to the self-government agreement.

Self-government agreements are not treaties, so the community's new status makes no change in how they're treated as status Indians or their rights as aboriginal people under the Constitution.

"What is important for the general public to know is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms will continue to apply... The Criminal Code continues to apply. Their laws will operating in harmony with those that operate in Manitoba and Canada," the minister said.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

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