Last October, this paper congratulated the citizens of Sioux Valley Dakota Nation for making the “bold decision” to vote in favour of a hard-fought self-government agreement with Canada.
On Friday, that decision was made official as Chief Vince Tacan signed the first-ever self-government agreement in the Prairie provinces, one that now frees Sioux Valley from several portions of the Indian Act.
As the Sun reported, the agreement that was made 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 and negotiation between the three parties.
No doubt, the situation could not have been easy for Sioux Valley as the process took the efforts of many chiefs and councils over the years to finally come to fruition. That the idea of self-government for the band managed to thrive in Sioux Valley is a testament to the hard work of many people over the years.
Ultimately, however, it appears that the final push came from Tacan, who, along with his councillors and the co-operation of his band members, managed to cut the reserve’s debt from more than $3 million to about $700,000 through various cost-cutting measures.
The reduction wasn’t always easy or favourable, and translated into laying off people in the community, but apparently 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 told the Sun. “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 provides Sioux Valley’s government with 52 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 Sioux Valley to make these changes without having to first consult Ottawa. These agreements also have the added benefit of speeding up the process of converting purchased land into reserve status.
Though Valcourt and Tacan refused to put a price tag to the agreement, a source close to the negotiations told the Sun that the deal is worth between $80 and $85 million over the next five years. So the funds are there for Sioux Valley to succeed.
The trick, so to speak, is finding a way to keep up the momentum. Any community needs strong leadership to become prosperous and consistently strong leadership to remain that way. That means ensuring proper funding for education and social services within the community so that all have a chance to benefit. And sometimes that means making difficult and unpopular decisions, such as implementing layoffs when the need arises.
That kind of common-sense approach is difficult to maintain, and there will be many bumps in the road ahead for Sioux Valley, as the community fully experiences self-government and all the responsibilities that it entails.
Nevertheless, we wish our neighbours a bright and prosperous future, for as we said before, a strong and fiscally sound Sioux Valley is good for all of us in Westman.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 4, 2013