Whitecap Dakota First Nation signs framework agreement for treaty with Canada

A historic agreement between Canada and a Saskatchewan First Nation was signed earlier this week, setting the stage for the Whitecap Dakota First Nation — and potentially other Dakota nations in the province — to negotiate a treaty with the Crown.

Dakota people in Sask. not part of numbered treaties because they were considered Native Americans

Whitecap Dakota First Nation signed a framework agreement with the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and northern Affairs that will lay the groundwork for what may be Saskatchewan's first modern day treaty. Here Chief Darcy Bear (left), Councillor Dwayne Eagle (centre) and Councillor Dalyn Bear (right) are sworn in in 2016. (Submitted by Whitecap Dakota First Nation)

A historic agreement between Canada and a Saskatchewan First Nation was signed earlier this week, setting the stage for the Whitecap Dakota First Nation — and potentially other Dakota nations in the province — to negotiate a treaty with the Crown.

The Whitecap Dakota First Nation signed a framework agreement with Canada to start the negotiations for what will be known as the Whitecap Dakota Treaty.

Whitecap Dakota First Nation is not part of any of the numbered treaties in Saskatchewan because Dakota people were viewed as Native Americans rather than British or Canadian.

"We've been going down this path of self-government," said Chief Darcy Bear.

"In order to have a sustainable community, we need to have an expanded land base. So we started talking about a Treaty between Canada and Whitecap," he said. 

The historical relationship between the British and the Dakota is well documented. The Dakota were allies of the British before Confederation and fought alongside the British in the War of 1812. In return, the British promised to protect Dakota territory, but when they signed a peace treaty with the U.S. in 1814, they handed jurisdiction of the Dakota territory south of the 49th parallel to the U.S.

In 2012, Bear accepted a War of 1812 commemorative medal from the governor general on behalf of Whitecap Dakota First Nation for his nation's contributions to the war effort.

Not part of Treaty 4 or 6

But even though the participation of the Dakota peoples in the wars of 1763 and 1812 predates the signing of treaties in the region, they weren't a part of Canada's numbered treaties. 

"Chief Whitecap was actually present at both Treaty 4 and Treaty 6," said Bear.

According to Bear, although Chief Whitecap was there at the treaty signings, he was viewed as an American Indian and wasn't invited to sign.

Bear said the main objectives for the First Nation in treaty negotiations are to acquire a larger land base for sustainable growth, money for economic development, capital projects and protecting language and culture and to be recognized as a Treaty First Nation.

"Many of us Dakota have married treaty women, so those treaty women marry into our community and they transfer to Whitecap and now they're no longer treaty women, they're now status Indians," said Bear.

Bear said approximately two-thirds of the current band membership has treaty ties. A treaty would ensure their treaty rights will be protected.

Mandate next

The framework that was signed on Monday outlines a period of 180 days to reach a mandate. The next step of the treaty negotiations will be to present the finalized mandate to cabinet for approval.

The federal government said in an email the Framework Agreement will allow Canada and Whitecap Dakota First Nation to explore their shared objectives in support of advancing reconciliation.

The Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs added that although it is committed to moving forward as efficiently as possible, it can't provide an exact timeframe for the final agreement but there is a possibility of developing interim agreements.

Three other First Nation communities in Saskatchewan are not part of treaties: Wahpeton Dakota Nation, Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation and Wood Mountain Lakota First Nation.

Bear said that the Whitecap Dakota framework agreement can set the precedent for the other First Nations.

'We've been there since this country was developed'

"Standing Buffalo's situation is very similar to Whitecap and Wahpeton and Wood Mountain," said Roger Redman, chief of Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation.

"We've always [been] under the belief that we were part of Canada."

Redman said although Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation was in talks with the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, nothing transpired and approximately 10 years ago they forwarded litigation against the federal government in order to begin negotiations on their own treaty.

"We also fought with the British alliances," said Redman.

"We have that history with the British government to defend what you know as Canada today. We have our medals to prove that. That's our justification that we've been there since this country was developed.

"Hopefully with the right federal government in place we may see a modern day treaty amongst the Dakotas."

'Peace, friendship and trade'

Former Wahpeton chief Leo Omani, who was first elected in 1981, said the significant difference between the Dakota nations in Saskatchewan and other treaty nations is there was no surrendering of land.

"We're treaty based on peace, friendship and trade," said Omani. "We didn't secede our Aboriginal title and rights."

Omani said Wahpeton Dakota Nation has two medals — one is the original War of 1812 medal which is kept in a museum and the other is the 2012 commemorative medal. 

When asked about the other three First Nations in Saskatchewan that are not a part of treaties, the federal government said it remains "open to engaging with any of the Dakota and Lakota First Nations to see if we can find the common ground to move forward on approaches that advance reconciliation for the benefit of all Canadians."


Brad Bellegarde

Reporter for CBC Indigenous based in Saskatchewan

Born and raised in Treaty 4 Territory, he holds an Indian Communication Arts Certificate from the First Nations University of Canada and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Regina. Follow him on Twitter @BBellegardeCBC