Wahpeton Dakota Nation: A Community Profile

Reprinted with permission from
The Indigenous Times - August 1998 - pg. 4-5

Leo Omani

Wahpeton Dakota Nation - In the 1998 August edition The Indigenous Times, we interviewed Chief Leo Omani of the Wahpeton Dakota Nation. Wahpeton is situated near the City of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

The reserve is one of the 12 bands that are affiliated with the Prince Albert Grand Council. The languages include Dakota, Dene, Plains Cree, Swampy Cree and Woodland Cree, these five tribal groups form the Grand Council.

The Wahpeton Dakota Nation is within the Treaty #6 area, but because of their ties to the United States and their ancestors involvement in the war between the U.S. and Canada of 1812 the Wahpeton Nation received a pre-confederation Treaty medal from King Goerge III. The medal is kept at the Prince Albert Historical Museum for safe keeping, but visits Wahpeton for special occassions like the recent Grand Opening of the day care, water treatment facility and fire hall. The band is also in the process of opening a new health clinic next year.

The Wahpeton Dakota Nation is one of three nations that are of Dakota descent in Saskatchewan, including Whitecap Dakota/Sioux and Standing Buffalo. There is also the Wood Mountain First Nation which is of Lakota descent, "Sitting Bull's" people situated near the U.S. border.

The 43-year-old Omani has been Chief of Wahpeton since May 1996, his term will be up May 1999. Chief Omani was also successful as Chief in his first term in 1981-84, he was 26 at the time. Beverly Waditika and Gary Standing are the other two elected officials of the band. Wahpeton Dakota Nation presently has 307 registered band members, approximately 180 live on reserve. Out of those 307 members, 60% are 25 years and under.

Chief Omani holds a Bachelors as well as his Masters in Education. Omani is considered to be one of the most educated chiefs in Saskatchewan. Chief Omani has also attended the Duck Lake Residential School.

According to oral history, some band members have ties to the Dakota people in the United States and have always acknowledged their relatives. Although, the Dakota people were left out of the Canadian treaty process the government wanted to avoid conflict so they were acknowledged and given a land base but only half the size of the treaty land base that was being given others at the time. Rather than 160 acres for a five member family they got only 80 acres. The issue will be subject to a hearing in September with the Federal Government. Wahpeton Dakota Nation is in the process of purchasing land for business reasons.

Although, the band is very small it has a lot of entrepreneurs. The reserve consists of five and three quarter sections of land on Wahpeton 94A, plus 160 acres on Wahpeton 94B, in which five acres is leased to the men "Men's Healing Lodge" near the Prince Albert Airport.

The band is part owner of Prince Albert Development Corporation and the Prince Albert Inn. The Wahpeton band is also part owner of the South Hill Health Clinic in Prince Albert. The band is also affiliated with the 12 bands that own the building where the "Northern Lights Casino" is situated.

In the early 90's, Wahpeton also started their own Bison operation called Tatonka Bison. As Chief Omani says "At one time the Buffalo was our sustenance, and it gave us life and now it's giving us life in a different way, it brings a lot of pride to our people in Wahpeton."

Because Wahpeton is located near the City of Prince Albert, the federal government hesitates to assist Wahpeton to build a high school on the reserve. The band presently operates an elementary school that has grades K to 9 and is pursuing the establishment of a high school on reserve.

Although, the band members are of Dakota descent, many have strong ties to Cree ancestry. As chief Omani says "Most mothers and grandmothers are Cree".

In 1918, there was a big flu epidemic that swept across the country. At that time, we were approximately 300 and the sickness reduced us to less that 30. That meant that a lot of our men had to intermarry. My grandma was Cree from Sturgeon Lake and she learned how to speak Dakota.

The Dakota language, music, song and dance is now taught as part of the curriculum at the Wahpeton Elementary School.

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