08/30/2013 10:41 EDT | Updated 10/30/2013 05:12 EDT

Manitoba First Nation signs self-government agreement with feds

GRISWOLD, Man. - The Sioux Valley Dakota First Nation has signed a self-government agreement with the federal and Manitoba governments.

“Today we can start moving forward on our economic development projects and start looking at some of the issues that directly affect the community,” Chief Vince Tacan said Friday.

The agreement is the result of more than 20 years of collaboration between the three parties and is the first for a community in Manitoba.

When the deal was signed, a loud cheer went up in the Sioux Valley Veterans Hall.

In October 2012, members of the First Nation voted 64 per cent in favour of self-government and Tacan said his council will take a “slow and cautious approach” implementing what will be a new system of services in Sioux Valley.

“The feeling is relief because now we can start focusing on things that are important to us and we don’t have to worry about the baggage and onerous reports that have to be completed by other levels of government.

“We can focus on problem-solving instead of trying to focus on getting the resources we need.”

Elder Mary Hall cried when asked about what the new agreement will mean to the community.

“We are overwhelmed,” said Hall as her eyes filled with tears. “It is so wonderful and we have all these feelings that we want to share. We hope that our children and future grandchildren will see the benefit of this agreement.”

Health, housing, policing, economic development and child and family services are some of the key issues the reserve will now be able to address on its own terms.

“The Indian Act is an impediment to progress for First Nations,” Valcourt told the crowd at the signing. “That is why we are taking concrete steps to introduce the incremental change that many First Nations have been calling for.”

Following a gift exchange between the three parties, Valcourt acknowledged that there have been several chiefs and councils in Sioux Valley that worked toward the agreement.

Since taking office in March 2010, Tacan has taken reduced the First Nation's debt from more than $3 million to about $700,000.

“This chief and council have come a long way in terms of better managing the finances of this First Nation,” Valcourt said. “This is a community that is engaged and they are concerned about finding efficiencies of doing things better and getting better results so they are ready to be in charge of their own development and their own future.”

The agreement could be just the beginning for several First Nations in Western Canada who have requested self-government. Valcourt said Ottawa is working with several First Nations on sovereignty agreements.

(Brandon Sun)