Pending final approval by Manitoba and Canada, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation will be the first aboriginal reserve in the province to achieve self-government.A clear majority of band members — about 64 per cent — voted to approve self-government agreements with Canada and Manitoba on Thursday. The ratification of the agreements follow more than 20 years of negotiations between the three governments.
“For us, it means that we’ll be able to do the things that other people and governments take for granted,” Sioux Valley Chief Vince Tacan told the Sun on Friday. “We’ll be allowed to participate fully in things we feel are important to us, and that’s jobs, looking after our own health issues and our priorities as we see them.
“And we can start working on those without the restrictions of government bureaucrats.”
Once the federal and provincial governments approve the deal, a process that could take more than a year, many provisions under the federal Indian Act could eventually fall away as the new self-governing band begins to create its own cannon of laws, without having to seek permission from a federal minister.
“As we move forward in a positive way, we will not leave any member of Sioux Valley Dakota Nation behind,” governance liaison officer Donna Elk said in a press release. “This is the opportunity to form our own system of government that will work for us. We will create it using our Dakota values.”
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.
“We will still respect the laws of the province and respect the laws of Canada,” Tacan said. “But for the most part Sioux Valley laws will prevail in relation to the reserve.”
The band’s senior negotiator and legal counsel, Bruce Slusar, called Thursday a very important day for the band, as well as Canada and Manitoba.
“This is an opportunity now where they become recognized as a government,” Slusar said. “They’ll have an opportunity to define for themselves, through lawmaking powers, their Dakota culture, and their programs and services they wish to deliver.”
However, Slusar says the act will still apply to Sioux Valley members in the following ways:
• Reserve lands will continue to be protected under the Indian Act,
• Sioux Valley will continue to fall under the section providing for tax exemption on the reserve for people with status earning income or buying and selling on reserve,
• And for any Sioux Valley band member who has been registered as a First Nations person with Canada, their status will be maintained under the legislation.
Sioux Valley will continue to receive funding from the federal government, though the agreement with Canada will be in five-year terms, rather than annually through the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. And through the agreement, accountability for governance shifts to the people, rather than the federal department.
“This is a new thing for us,” Tacan said. “The Indian Act chief and council will evolve into some form of government that will be more accountable to its people.
“(The self-government agreement) will give us a little more resources to do the implementation of the agreement … We will be able to have access to a little more funding. Not a whole lot, but enough to make a difference.”
According to the Parliament of Canada’s web page on aboriginal self-government, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation concluded a comprehensive bipartite agreement-in-principle with Canada and a tripartite agreement-in-principle with Manitoba in 2001. At that time, Sioux Valley was the first band in Manitoba to reach this stage of self-government negotiations.
Ratification of these final agreements by Sioux Valley, Manitoba and Canada will herald the conclusion of that process, with implementation to follow.
Not only is Sioux Valley the first Manitoba First Nation to ratify a self-government agreement, Slusar says it’s only the third in Canada to have self-government agreements with the federal government that are not connected with a land claim. Sechelt First Nation along B.C.’s West Coast and the Westbank First Nation in B.C.’s Okanagan region are the other two.
When it becomes effective, the self-government agreement will also speed up the process to convert lands into reserve status, Slusar said. Under the normal system, additions to reserves (ATRs) can take years to process, but with self government, it could take a matter of months instead.
Tacan says the band has recently purchased about 80 acres of land located south of the reserve at the junction of the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 21, which will likely be converted into reserve land.
“That will probably be an economic development area that will probably be looking at doing some kind of reserve status on it,” Tacan said. “We have high hopes that this will generate the employment that we need.”
When asked whether Sioux Valley is considering the construction of a gaming facility on that property, Tacan said it’s a possibility.
“It’s wide open. Whatever will generate the most amount of employment for our community.”
The effective date of the self-government agreements is still to be decided by all parties, and will follow the passing of federal and provincial legislation, which will bring the agreements into effect.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 6, 2012