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The Sioux or Dakota Indians signed no treaties with Canadian authorities but are now seeking to clarify their status and to correct some misconceptions that have been associated with their re-settlement in Manitoba and Saskatchewan well over a century ago.
The Dakota Association of Canada which represents the interests of the Sioux people on the four reserves in Saskatchewan and five in Manitoba is seeking a meeting with Indian Affairs Minister John Munro to build some new ground rules regarding the plight of the Sioux.
They are also exploring the possibility of becoming treaty Indians. At present the Sioux in Saskatchewan live on reserves granted outside of any negotiated treaties but because they are registered Indians share in the benefits provided by virtue of the Indian Act.
Central to the issues is the fact the Canadian authorities have always considered the Dakota bands as displaced American citizens and on that basis never negotiated treaties with them and rejected aboriginal claims to the territory. Cy Standing former chief of the Wahpeton reserve near Prince Albert said recently that federal authorities reached this conclusion because the Dakotas moved into Saskatchewan and Manitoba from the United States in the 1860s. However, he says recent research based on archeological work and documents in British and Canadian archives indicates the bands moved out of Canada in 1812 and traditionally wandered over what is now the Canadian-American border for more than 2,000 years.
Doug Elias, a researcher with the Dakota association, concludes that if the Canadian government can be re-educated as to the proper history of the Dakota people, the struggle for recognition of aboriginal rights could be significantly changed in favor of the Indian people.
Elias said such recognition could not only translate into the establishment of hunting and fishing rights beyond question, but also the ability of Indian nations in North America to trade freely and uninterrupted by national boundaries or the trappings of immigration authorities. But the Sioux have other scores to settle too. They did not leave the Minnesota frontier in the 1860s with the wrath of American authorities at their heels with their house entirely in order.
The most relevant to Saskatchewan Sioux, signed in 1851, has not been satisfied as far as Sioux here are concerned and the Dakota association has devoted time and energy to pursuing a just settlement on behalf of the descendants of the signatories now living in Canada.
The 1851 treaty in which roughly half of what is now the state of Minnesota was surrendered remains a live issue.
Elias said the claims the Sioux are making relate to unilateral cancellation of the treaty following the uprising. The Americans were later pursuaded to recognize the treaty but they passed legislation to exclude the Canadian Sioux from falling under it.
Elias said that under some of the terms of the treaty, the American government agreed to put $1.6 million in trust with five per cent interest over a period of 50 years, which would have been until 1901. The Sioux were to receive the interest money but not the principle.
But the accruing interest payments ceased with the uprising of 1861-62. Since the US. had already held an inquiry and executed 38 Sioux found to be the instigators, it was assumed that all others were not implicated.
On that basis, the Sioux argue they are entitled to the remaining 40 years worth of outstanding interst payments relating to the period from 1861 to 1901.
Canadian Sioux are fighting for their share.
Elias said the Sioux have tapped "every legal angle" in the attempt to get the Americans to recognize the rights of the Sioux who fled to Canada. But now the Sioux must turn to political mechanisms to get the legislation changed.
The battle has been put on ice for the moment but Elias said it continues to be a live issue. He said the task now is to get the issue into the United States Congress.
Recognition of the rights of the Sioux living in Canada could also be an important addition to the case for aboriginal rights. Arguments for aboriginal rights also focus on the "North American" citizenship of the Indian people, he said.