Citizens of the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation should be congratulated for making the bold decision to vote in favour of self-government, a move that will finally allow the band to chart its own course, mostly outside of the federal Indian Act.
In a process that took 20 years of research, high-level negotiations and public meetings, a clear majority of band members — about 64 per cent — voted to approve self-government agreements with Canada and Manitoba.
As the Sun reported on Saturday, pending final approval by the provincial and federal governments, Sioux Valley will become the first aboriginal reserve in Manitoba to achieve self-government, and only the third in Canada to have such agreements that are not connected with a land claim.
It could take more than a year for the feds and the province to sign the agreements, and in that time the reserve’s chief and council and the people they serve will have an opportunity to look at what Sioux Valley’s self-government will look like.
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 its own court, police force, family and services department, and will give the band control over any environmental policy on its reserve and lands.
And it will also allow them to make these changes without having to first consult Ottawa, a process that any First Nations chief will tell you, is next to impossible to navigate successfully.
“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. “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.”
These agreements also have the added benefit of speeding up the process of converting land into reserve status. Already the band has purchased land at the corner of the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 21 to begin the process of economic development and the creation of new jobs for their community, with the addition-to-reserve process in mind.
If the process of implementing self government is done well, forging ahead as an independent community that will still respect the laws of Manitoba and Canada will provide benefits to not only Sioux Valley members, but also communities that surround the reserve. A prosperous Sioux Valley community cannot help but benefit greater Westman.
And there are two great examples: the other two First Nations who have achieved self-government through a negotiation process that didn’t include land claims — Sechelt First Nation along B.C,’s West Coast and the Westbank First Nation in B.C.’s Okanagan region.
Since the Sechelt First Nation achieved self government in 1986, it has implemented several new community laws, governing everything from animal control, noise, unsightly property, traffic and taxation. They are working to achieve “greater self-sufficiency” with the resources at their disposal, and looking to grow sustainable industry and commerce.
The Westbank First Nation voted in favour of their own self-government agreement in 2003, which became law in 2004 when Bill C-11 received royal assent in Ottawa. The agreement came into force in 2005.
According to the band’s 2011-12 annual report, Westbank posted revenues of $43.8 million (above the previous year’s total of $42 million), and an annual surplus of $8.4 million.
The Westbank council says that now that they’re in a stronger financial position, they can address full funding of education services for community members, providing the community with much needed housing, and building and maintaining infrastructure and facilities.
If Sioux Valley is able to emulate these two First Nations models in its quest for self governance and self-reliance, it could do very well indeed.
We wish them the best of luck.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 10, 2012