SIOUX VALLEY DAKOTA NATION — Twenty years of negotiations came to an end with one stroke of the pen on Friday, as Chief Vince Tacan signed the first-ever self-government agreement in the Prairie provinces, freeing Sioux Valley Dakota Nation from several portions of the much-maligned Indian Act.
“Today we can start moving forward on our economic development projects and start looking at some of the issues that directly affect the community,” Tacan said proudly.
The agreement, between Tacan, federal Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt and provincial Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson, reflects more than 20 years of collaboration between the three parties.
When the deal was finalized, a loud cheer went up in the Sioux Valley Veterans Hall.
In October 2012, the reserve voted
64 per cent in favour of self-government. Tacan said his council will take a “slow and cautious approach” implementing what will be a new system of services in Sioux Valley.
“The feeling is relief because now we can start focusing on things that are important to us and we don’t have to worry about the baggage and onerous reports that have to be completed by other levels of government,” Tacan said.
“We can focus on problem-solving instead of trying to focus on getting the resources we need.”
Elder Mary Hall cried when asked what the new agreement will mean to the community.
“We are overwhelmed,” said Hall as her eyes filled with tears. “It is so wonderful and we have all these feelings that we want to share. We hope that our children and future grandchildren will see the benefit of this agreement.”
Health care, housing, policing, economic development and child and family services are some of the key issues the reserve will now be able to address on its own terms. It’s part of an agreement that is worth between $80 to $85 million over five years, according to a source close to the negotiations.
“Getting more young people educated is the key,” Hall said.
Valcourt didn’t pull punches when speaking to the crowd about the limitations and shortcomings of an act, which provides the federal government exclusive authority to legislate in relations to “Indians and Lands Reserved for Indians.”
“The Indian Act is an impediment to progress for First Nations,” he said passionately. “That is why we are taking concrete steps to introduce the incremental change that many First Nations have been calling for.”
Following a gift exchange between the three parties, Valcourt acknowledged that there have been several chiefs and councils in Sioux Valley that worked toward the agreement. Ultimately, it was the people of Sioux Valley and leadership of Tacan that made the agreement possible.
Since taking office in March 2010, Tacan has taken the reserve’s debt from more than $3 million to approximately $700,000. The reduction wasn’t always easy or favourable, sometimes meaning laying off people in the community, but it paved the way for self-governance.
“This chief and council have come a long way in terms of better managing the finances of this First Nation,” Valcourt said. “This is a community that is engaged and they are concerned about finding efficiencies of doing things better and getting better results, so they are ready to be in charge of their own development and their own future.”
The agreement could be just the beginning for several First Nations in Western Canada who have requested self-government. Valcourt wouldn’t provide any status updates on other negotiations, but did say the government will move forward on the issue.
“We are working with several First Nations on sovereignty agreements.”
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 31, 2013