As negotiations lag with the federal government, the leaders of the Great Buffalo Nation Dakota have decided to appeal to a higher legal power: the British Crown.
“In mid-January, we’re going to go to England,” Canupawakpa Chief Frank Brown told the Sun. “And this is where we’re going to take our issue, where we’re going to take our court case. That’s the unbiased court that we can take this to.”
Manitoba’s non-treaty Dakota First Nations have long maintained that an ancient treaty existed between their ancestors and the British Crown — an alliance that ultimately benefited the British during the War of 1812 when the Dakota fought as Crown allies against the Americans.
In 2009, three Manitoba Dakota bands filed a claim in a federal court in Saskatoon alleging that Canada misrepresented the Dakota people as “American refugees” in the 1870s, a label they believe was used to deny them aboriginal rights, land compensation, funding and recognition as Canadian aboriginal people under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
That court later ordered Canada and the Dakota — Canupawakpa, Sioux Valley and Dakota Plains First Nations — to sit down and negotiate, while calling on both sides to submit documented evidence to back up their arguments.
While the two sides have met on several occasions, Brown has grown increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of the negotiation process. He says a Canadian court will never give the Dakota a fair day in court.
“This court case with Canada and the Dakota — to have it in Canada’s court? That’s conflict of interest. We need to take our case to somewhere unbiased.”
The creation of the Dakota Chundee Smoke Shop and Gaming Centre near the community of Pipestone and the sale of cut-rate Mohawk cigarettes was intended to not only force litigation, but to speed up negotiations.
Since its opening in early November, Manitoba Finance authorities have raided the smoke shop at least three times and seized thousands of cigarettes produced by Rainbow Tobacco, a federally licensed Mohawk-owned company.
The cigarettes are not marked for sale in Manitoba, and as a result, Brown, fellow Great Buffalo Nation Dakota leader Orville Smoke, and the smoke shop’s manager and employees face several charges under the province’s Tobacco Tax Act.
While Brown says members of the Great Buffalo Nation Dakota are looking into legal representation in an English court, chief Smoke says the reasons to visit England would be two-fold.
“We have the treat that still in existence between the Dakota and the British government that was here pre-20th century. Our treaties with them never ceased, and to date we still have certain arrangements and agreements with them,” said Smoke, chief of Dakota Plains.
“It would be very interesting to go to England to see if they have the actual written documents under King George (III), to prove it’s there, that kind of thing.”
But Smoke says a January visit to England is “highly unlikely,” as the group is still trying to find the funding to go.
“That could take a little while. I would presume if anything it would be by summertime ... or early fall. Unless we’re absolutely fortunate in finding a sponsor to go down there in the spring.”
Meanwhile, the provincial government has officially refused to negotiate with the Great Buffalo Nation Dakota, citing a lack of jurisdiction, after the Dakota asked to meet with Finance Minister Stan Struthers.
In a letter dated Dec. 1 and obtained by the Brandon Sun, Hugh Eliasson, the deputy minister of Manitoba Entrepreneurship, Training and Trade, informed Brown that the “provincial government does not have the authority to negotiate such issues.”
Eliasson further wrote that Harvey Bostrom, the deputy minister of Manitoba Aboriginal and Northern Affairs would be prepared to meet with the group to “open dialogue and facilitate discussions with the federal government.”
Provincial spokesperson Jodee Mason confirmed that Eliasson had sent the letter.
The document proves that the province has no jurisdiction over the Dakota, Brown said, and therefore Manitoba should not be attempting to lay charges against them.
“They have no authority to negotiate with us,” Brown said. “Then why are they charging us then? It explains they have no jurisdiction, but they’re just applying the law. But they’re saying that their law is not applicable to us.”
Brown, Smoke and the Dakota Chundee employees are scheduled to make appearances in a Virden courtroom in January.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 2, 2012