Manitoba’s five Dakota First Nations hold a unique position in the province as the only aboriginal bands to have non-treaty status with the federal government.
For nearly 140 years, successive Canadian governments have classified the Dakota people — the largest division of the Sioux nation — as refugees who fled the United States cavalry into Canada following the Minnesota Sioux War of 1862 and the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.
The federal government maintains that the Dakota were allowed to remain in Canada with reserves of land on a “grace-and-favour” basis.
According to Saskatchewan government archives, in the mid-19th century a number of Dakota, Lakota and Nakota bands migrated northwest from Minnesota into the territories that later became Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where they established several reserve communities.
The government records state British officials allowed the Dakota bands to enter the northwest because of their past relationship with the British government.
The Dakota people had allied with the British in the American Revolutionary War of 1776 and in the War of 1812.
Dakota historians say they have found evidence in federal government records that suggest a series of treaties and agreements existed between the British Crown and the Dakota people.
“Upon their arrival in British territory between late 1862 and 1870, the Dakota people pointed to their possession of King George medals, which were presented to the Dakota by the British in recognition of these alliances, as the basis of their request to enter and remain in the British territories,” states a page on the Saskatchewan Archives Board website.
However, the Manitoba Dakota, made up of the Birdtail Sioux, Canupawakpa, Sioux Valley, Dakota Tipi and Dakota Plains First Nations, dispute the government claim that they were refugees in this province, saying their oral history, along with other archaeological and historical research, proves that their territory ran through what is now Manitoba, Saskatchewan, part of Alberta and 13 American states long before European settlers arrived.
This unresolved refugee status has become a sore spot between the Dakota and the federal government, and the subject of a recent federal court challenge from three of the bands — Canupawakpa, Dakota Plains and Sioux Valley.
Back in 2007, Canada offered an economic development and land purchase deal to the nine Dakota and Lakota bands in Manitoba and Saskatchewan — $6.7 million for each band ($60.3 million in total) in exchange for each band signing waivers that would release Canada from any future claims by the bands for aboriginal or treaty rights, rights to future land claims, or any new hunting, trapping or fishing rights.
After Canupawakpa, Sioux Valley and Dakota Plains rejected the offer, the three bands broke away from the group of five and filed a comprehensive court claim against Canada in a Saskatoon federal court to prove they were never refugees. Eventually that court put the case into abeyance and ordered Canada and the Dakota to sit down and negotiate, while calling on both sides to submit documented evidence to back up their arguments.
Frustrated with the slow court process, Canupawakpa Chief Frank Brown joined with Dakota Plains Chief Orville Smoke in November, 2011 to open the illegal Dakota Chundee Smoke Shop near the community of Pipestone.
The smoke shop has since been closed.
The case remains before the courts.
In a further fracture between the bands, Sioux Valley pulled out of the court challenge and moved forward with a 20-year project to attain self government. Pending final approval by Manitoba and Canada, Sioux Valley will become the first aboriginal reserve in Manitoba to make that achievement.
Late last year, a clear majority of band members — about 64 per cent — voted to approve self-government agreements with the federal and provincial governments. Once approved, many provisions under the federal Indian Act could eventually fall away for Sioux Valley as the new self-governing band begins to create its own cannon of laws, without having to seek permission from a federal minister.
The agreements will provide Sioux Valley’s government with 52 different areas of jurisdiction, including education, health, social development, justice and economic development. It will allow the band to create it’s own court, police force, family and services department, and will give Sioux Valley control over any environmental policy on its reserve and lands.
Two of the five bands, however, have quietly continued conversations with the federal government and committed themselves to creating economic development. In the midst of the court challenge and smoke shop drama, Birdtail and Dakota Tipi held further negotiations with the federal government in the hopes of making a counter to the 2007 offer.
Those discussions are ongoing, and Birdtail Chief Ken Chalmers suggests negotiations have been moving forward.
In the meantime, Birdtail has been in discussions with the Canadian National Railway, Alberta-based oil company Fort Calgary Resources, and the federal government to build a railway spur and oil terminal on Birdtail’s reserve land.
As well, Fort Calgary has begun pouring concrete on a linear oil well just outside of Birdtail Sioux reserve land that will tap into an oil formation underneath the community. Another two oil wells are scheduled to be constructed on the reserve in the near future.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 9, 2013