Dakota people in Canada working toward Treaty negotiations

By Bryan Eneas
January 24, 2018 - 2:00pm

A Saskatchewan Dakota Nation recently entered into a framework agreement with the federal government; now other Dakota nations are looking to do the same in the future.

On Jan. 22 the Whitecap Dakota First Nation near Saskatoon entered into a framework agreement with the Ministry of Indigenous-Crown Relations. The day was marked with speeches by Chief Darcy Bear and Minister Carolyn Bennett, and capped off with a signing of the agreement by all parties.

Wahpeton Dakota Nation Chief John Waditaka was present during the press conference; Bear asked him to attend a day before the meeting.

Waditaka said he and his councillors will be meeting with officials from the federal government at the end of the month to begin discussing how their nation can move forward.

“It’s good to see that they’re moving forward, and we’re still moving forward with our plans,” Waditaka said.

While he recognized the framework agreement as a step forward for Whitecap, Waditaka said Wahpeton wouldn’t enter the exact same agreement. Instead, portions of the framework agreement signed with Whitecap will be used as a launching point for discussions with Wahpeton.

Waditaka said ultimately, Wahpeton will be seeking consistency with terms agreed to in the numbered Treaty documents from the federal government.

“Maybe not in my time, but [in] my children and grandchildren’s [time] they’ll see it, but we’ll continue that work,” Waditaka said. “I’m 50 yearsold now, and this work started before my time. It’s been a long slug.”

The history of Dakota relations in Canada

The Dakota people in Canada have been fighting a long battle with the Canadian government to reacquire lands they say are rightfully theirs and Treaty agreements similar to those other Indigenous communities are a part of.

Chief Waditika said the British have recognized Dakota people in Canada in the past.

He said the Wahpeton Dakota Nation has been recognized historically in some sense; in 2012 Dakota contributions to the war of 1812 as allies of the British were acknowledged by the federal government. Dakota participation in that war led to a Peace, Friendship and Commerce agreement with the British Crown.

Despite this, the federal government refused to acknowledge the Dakota people as Indigenous people who lived in Canada during the creation of the numbered Treaty documents. Instead, they were seen as refugees of the smallpox epidemic and various conflicts in the United States involving Dakota people. The Government of Canada argued Dakota simply migrated North of the border and had no rightful claims to land in the Great White North.

Cyrus “Cy” Standing, former chief of the Wahpeton Dakota Nation, traced his roots back to the original people of the Nation. His father migrated from the state of Minnesota following the 1862 uprising; his mother’s family had always lived around what is present day Prince Albert.

Standing sent a letter to then Minister of Indian Affairs Hugh Faulkner in 1978 to ask for admittance into Treaty 6 by way of adhesion. Faulkner’s response reiterated the position of the federal government of the past, and in the 1970s:

“It is clear from the historical record that the numbered treaties such as Treaty 6 were prompted and entered into by the Canadian Government in an attempt to insure the peaceful development and settlement of Western Canada, with Indians giving up their right or interest to land covered by treaty, whatever the precise legal nature of that right or interest may be,” Faulkner’s response to Standing read. “At the time of Treaty 6 signing in 1876, the Sioux had been living in Canada only a short while, and not regarded as having any Aboriginal interest in Canadian territory. Indeed, the Government of the day acknowledged them as separate and distinct from the resident ‘British Indians.’”

Standing argued Dakota people had always been present in Canada and should therefore be awarded lands and Treaty agreements just other Indigenous people have in the past.

“People say we were in 11 states and four provinces; Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta. That’s our territory,” Standing said. “Some people say the North Saskatchewan River is our boundary; some people say Dakotas were up in La Ronge. We have a large territory.”

When it comes to signing into Treaty agreements, Standing said Dakota people were apprehensive about dealing with the government of the day. Runners from the southern Dakota encampments had previously warned the people in the North about the Treaty process. Specifically, the runners spoke of how the agreements had not been honoured by the American federal government.

Standing also disputed the right Cree and other Indigenous people had to sign into any Treaty agreement in Saskatchewan.

He argued many of the Cree people who signed into Treaty 6 were from regions further North than where they’re located today. Prior to the creation of Treaty, Cree people had migrated out of necessity; trading posts were being set up South of their traditional territory.

Standing said a letter from a North West Mounted Police Sgt. from Fort Walsh to the Treaty Commissioner made it clear lands were being given to Cree people which weren’t traditionally theirs – it was Dakota territory.

“We have that kind of information that we’re gathering now [to prove our case], we’re doing that kind of research,” Standing said. “[The government] kind of boo-booed by giving up our territory. They don’t want to deal with it because it’s so huge. [The claim will] be trillions of dollars.” 

Aside from the letter from the North West Mounted Police Standing said Dakota people are using a variety of methods to prove their case.

Historical artifacts like Medicine Wheels have been used to prove Dakota people walked the lands of the Treaty 6 territory ages before the government argues they did according to Standing.

Authors, historians, and anthropologists have been called in to examine various historical documents and pottery artifacts which have been found around the province. Many of their findings point to Dakota people living in the province prior to 1862.

Chief Waditaka said the work of a former Wahpeton chief, Dr. Leo Omani, is also being heavily relied on in discussions around the creation of a new agreement.

Learning from the past and looking to the future

The Dakota people have previously dealt with the Canadian government on the topic of a land claim. In 2007 the government offered compensation to the tune of $60 million according to Standing.

The Dakota refused.

The offer, while it appeared lucrative, would be spread equally across nine nations in Canada. It also would have forced the Dakota to give up all future entitlements to land and Aboriginal Title, something which is non-negotiable according to Standing.

Standing said Dakota people see the modern day treaty process or “self-governance agreements” is flawed in this sense as well. Standing said the Dakota people are working to avoid entering a modern day treaty with the federal government.

“I know the government says you’ve got to relinquish all further rights, for ever and ever, and we’ve got to be very careful with that termination [wording],” Standing said.

Standing said Dakota people are very interested in the way treaty discussions are handled in British Columbia. Few Indigenous people in that province fall into the numbered treaty territories however many still qualify as Status Indians.

While the difference may seem insignificant, Standing said it’s posed some challenges in the past. Many Indigenous lawyers in and around Saskatchewan are knowledgeable about Treaty law and how it can play out in the courts, but few had knowledge about Indigenous law and how it applied to the Dakota who aren’t signatories.

Standing said things have now changed, and more Indigenous lawyers with knowledge of law outside of the Treaty process have come forward to help Wahpeton and Dakota across the country. In 30 to 50 years, he said he’d like to see a true modern day Treaty agreements emerge between the Dakota and the federal government.

“I think [now] is a good time [to start these discussions], because we have all the resources,” Standing said. “I think it’ll be a good land claim, because we have the resources and we have so many bright young lawyers.”

Ministry of Indigenous-Crown Relations seeks to advance reconciliation

Waditaka said he and his fellow councillors are scheduled to meet with representatives in Saskatoon to discuss moving forward in negotiations with Wahpeton.

In an email to paNOW, officials from the ministry said collaboration and dialogue are the best ways to resolve outstanding issues.

“We are keeping the lines of communication open with our First Nation partners to see if we can find the common ground for moving forward together toward a shared solution that advances reconciliation for the benefit of all Canadians,” the email said.

The email further stated the government is open to exploring new ways of working at discussions with Indigenous communities across the country.

When asked about the Dakota peoples desires to maintain Aboriginal Title, the ministry said new concepts are being explored in terms of creating treaties which will “recognize their rights and advance their vision self-determination.”


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