Sometime today the Manitoba government will give royal assent to Bill 48, otherwise known as the Sioux Valley Governance Act.
This is a historic occasion that will allow Sioux Valley Dakota Nation greater autonomy to chart its own course. At this juncture, it’s an especially unfortunate time for chief and council to receive a fiscal black eye.
Passage of the Manitoba bill was the last piece of the puzzle needed for Sioux Valley’s self-government agreement to become reality, an agreement that has taken nearly two decades to forge. The landmark deal, first penned in August 2013, is the first of its kind on the Prairies involving a First Nation, the federal government and the province.
In October 2012, members of the Sioux Valley reserve voted 64 per cent in favour of self-government. On March 4 of this year, the federal Sioux Valley Governance Act — Bill C-16 — received royal assent from the Canadian government.
The Manitoba legislature gave third reading to Bill 48 on June 5, and was passed by a vote the same day.
As of July 1, when self-government comes into effect, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation will be removed from portions of the Indian Act, a change that will provide the chief and council with greater control over decisions relating to economic development, land management, education, housing and water, among other issues.
Sioux Valley members will continue to be recognized and treated as Status Indians under the act, and Dakota Nation laws will be harmonized with existing federal and provincial laws and exercised within the Canadian constitution.
As well, a large part of the agreement includes a payment of more than $80 million in federal government funding over five years to the band to help fund its self-government aspirations.
But the issue of self-government and this massive influx of cash is not without controversy on the reserve, even if a majority of the band voted in its favour. A small protest on the steps of the provincial legislature on Tuesday showed at least a portion of the reserve doesn’t trust the chief and council.
The group members, who said they are known as the “Kunshis” or grandmothers, told the Winnipeg Free Press that they have concerns about the community’s financial management, a lack of freedom of speech in the community, poor housing and chronic suicides.
Their protest follows a Brandon Sun story earlier this week in which questions arose over disaster assistance for a tornado that tore through Sioux Valley in 2013.
In two different conversations last week, Sioux Valley Chief Vince Tacan told a Sun reporter and an editor that despite making an application for emergency funds in the wake of the tornado, no government money was forthcoming to help with repairs.
Tacan said he was told the damage sustained during the tornado wasn’t “substantial enough” to receive any disaster relief assistance for home repairs.
And though he said all of the damaged homes have since been fixed, Tacan suggested that they are once again in need of repairs. He also said insurance money was used to fix the damaged homes, but not every home was covered under insurance.
Following those conversations, Ellen Funk, a regional spokeswoman for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, told us on June 5 that capital funds were provided through that department to help fix damaged homes.
“The $100,000 was for housing repairs related to damages sustained from the tornado,” Funk said in an emailed statement to the Sun. “The funds were payable to Sioux Valley Dakota Nation.
“The funds were to support recovery costs which were not covered by insurance.”
The federal government is responsible for providing emergency services, including recovery services, to First Nations. Funk added AANDC would have considered providing additional support, but a request for further financial assistance was never made.
Since then, the Sun has made numerous attempts to reach Tacan in order to give him a chance to explain how the $100,000 was used, and why Sioux Valley’s chief and council never saw fit to request more funds. He has not been returning our calls and has made no attempt to clarify the funding discrepancy.
Even if Chief Tacan is correct, and the agitators in question are merely a small group of Sioux Valley people who are opposed to self-government and attempting to discredit the band’s elected officials, the fact remains that $100,000 in federal disaster assistance have not been publicly accounted for.
This is not the kind of news we want to see in the weeks leading up to official self-government status for the Sioux Valley band, or the kind of reaction we would expect from responsible leaders.