Dakota offered cash to give up rights claim
Sioux First Nations originally from U.S.
Updated: June 28, 2008 at 10:55 AM CDT
The federal government has given Dakota Sioux a take-it-or-leave-it offer that would pay them $60.3 million if they renounced their claim to aboriginal treaty rights in Canada.
The nine First Nations in Manitoba and Saskatchewan turned the deal down flat this month.
"It is criminal to treat 'Indians' generally as second-class citizens and even more so to treat the Dakota as some kind of third-class 'Indian,'" Canupawakpa Dakota Chief Frank Brown told Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl in a letter June 6.
Canupawakpa is located west of Brandon at Pipestone.
An Indian Affairs spokeswoman said Friday the deal is still on the table, as far as Ottawa is concerned.
Canadian Dakota are really just American Indians, Ottawa says.
"When the treaties were negotiated in the 1870s, these First Nations were viewed as American Indians who had signed treaties in the United States," the federal e-mail said.
"Canada does not recognize the Dakota-Lakota First Nations as having aboriginal rights in Canada."
A University of Manitoba expert in aboriginal law said the offer was anything but a standard claims settlement.
"This is not a treaty process. It's saying 'Here you are. You're immigrants and you have no rights here. We're not acknowledging you have any history,'" professor Wendy Whitecloud said.
"What the Dakota want is a treaty. This is economic development money."
Signing it would have spelled the end of Dakota aboriginal rights in Canada, the legal expert said.
The way the Dakota see it, they're no more American than United Empire Loyalists or Mohawks who fled to Canada after the American Revolution.
They say some of their ancestors have always lived in what is now Canadian territory. Others migrated north in waves, the final one lasting more than 100 years -- from the time of the American Revolution to the 1890s after Chief Sitting Bull's assassination in South Dakota. Canadian Dakota say their people were the holdouts who came north to avoid signing American treaties.
The Dakota protected British holdings against American claims a century before Canada was created in 1867, Brown wrote Strahl.
"Without us, your country would have ended at Lake Superior."
Saskatchewan Treaty Commissioner Bill McKnight presented the deal last November in a formal letter to Dakota chiefs. The irony is that the offer was the best deal in a century of appeals to Ottawa, the chiefs said.
But from the start, there were problems, Chief Cornell Pashe said from Dakota Tipi near Portage la Prairie.
Ottawa imposed conditions on the talks, including a blackout on the deal itself, telling chiefs they'd cancel talks if word of them leaked out.
"We wanted to tell the story, but we were under a gag order," Pashe said.
Because Dakota have no treaties in Canada, they exist in a legal limbo.
Aboriginal groups are protesting the construction of pipelines over traditional territory claimed by Dakota on both sides of the border, giving Ottawa a powerful political motive for not recognizing their rights, Pashe said.
"It all came down to oil, and the U.S. need for oil."
Today, the Lakota are found mostly in the five reservations of western South Dakota: Rosebud Indian Reservation (home of the Upper Sičangu or Brulé), Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (home of the Oglala), Lower Brule Indian Reservation (home of the Lower Sičangu), Cheyenne River Indian Reservation (home of several other of the seven Lakota bands, including the Sihasapa and Hunkpapa), and Standing Rock Indian Reservation, also home to people from many bands. But Lakota also live on the Fort Peck Reservation in northeastern Montana, the Fort Berthold Reservation of northwestern North Dakota, and several small reserves in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where their ancestors fled to "Grandmother's [i.e. Queen Victoria's] Land" (Canada) during the Minnesota or Black Hills War.