First Nations Groups in Manitoba: Dakota

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In 2010, the Assiniboine Zoo gifted a white buffalo to Sioux Valley Dakota Nation ( see the calf here: Rare white bison calf draws visitors to western Manitoba First Nation). This unique animal has very special significance for the Seven Council Fires. They have a legend of a holy woman dressed in white who appeared to two hunters. She went to their village and gave them seven sacred gifts. She promised to return one day as a white buffalo. To this day, the white buffalo is a scared symbol that represents the return of Dakota to strength and prosperity.

Manitoba has a small population of Dakota people (0.05% of Manitobans speak the language). They have lived in south-eastern Manitoba for thousands of years.

Traditional life

There are seven different groups of people that together are called the “Oceti Ŝakowiŋ,” translated as “the Seven Council Fires”. These seven groups are either:

  • Dakota – Mdewakaŋtoŋwaŋ (Mdewakanton), Wahpekhute (Wahpekute), Wahpetoŋwaŋ (Wahpeton), Sisitoŋwaŋ (Sisseton)
  • Nakota – Ihaŋktoŋwaŋ (Yankton), Ihaŋktoŋwaŋna (Yanktonai) or
  • Lakota – Titoŋwaŋ (Teton), depending on the language they speak. The Dakota and Lakota lived in what is now called southern Manitoba.

The Dakota have a deep connection to each other and to the land: the seasons determined their lives. In the spring they made maple syrup, and in the summer and fall they fished, hunted, and harvested plants (wild and farmed). Communities disbanded and came back together throughout the year: spring hunting parties were all men, but in the summer villages made of multiple families worked together to process the animals and plants needed for the winter.

Kinship is extremely important for the Dakota. Being a good relative is more important than personal achievements and having fun. The Seven Council Fires represent many people over a large territory. Nevertheless, the strong kinship bonds guaranteed co-operation between the different communities. Everyone had a relative in each village.

Art and ceremony

Art has always been important to Dakota culture. There are four main forms of art – painting, beadwork, sculpture, and ceremony.

What’s the difference between Ojibwe and Dakota beadwork? Worn Within| Twin Cities PBS

Painting was done first on animal hides (skins) and later on paper that colonists brought. Beadwork is currently very popular, but before beadwork there was quillwork. This art is done with quills from porcupines. When the Dakota were forced to live on reserves, beadwork was done to preserve their culture and to earn an income during very those hard times.

Thousands of years ago, sculpture would have been markings left on rocks in the environment. The purpose of all sculptures would be to honour the subject. A good example of this is a famous sculpture was made by a warrior to honour his horse that died in battle. You can see it here: Horse Effigy.

Dakota people were forbidden to practice their own ceremonies by the Canadian government. The most important of the ceremonies was the Sun Dance. While living on reserves, the Ghost Dance became popular. It was believed that conducting this ceremony would cause the colonists to disappear and the buffalo (which the colonists had exterminated) to reappear. These changes would allow the Dakota people to return to their previous lives. In 1890, after the Dakota lost their military battles against the colonists, the Ghost Dance disappeared. The most popular modern ceremony in the powwow.

Americans or Canadians?

The Dakota and Lakota have occupied eastern Manitoba/western Ontario for thousands of years. In the War of 1812, between the British and Americans, the Dakota fought as British allies. Once the war was over, the British refused to fulfill their promises to the Dakota despite the Dakotans fighting loyally on their behalf and suffering a large loss of life. The Dakota moved more into US areas, but, in 1862, they came back into Canada because of colonists moving further west in the USA (Western expansion).

The Canadian government did, and does, treat the Dakota and Lakota as political refugees. They do not have Treaties with the Canadian government which means they have no legal right to landand to sovereignty. Despite this unfairness, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation was the first First Nation to be self-governing on the prairies.

Laudable Lakota

Quannah Chasinghorse is a Lakota woman, a world-famous model and actress, and an activist for Indigenous Peoples rights. She is proud of her traditional face tattoos, so she never comes them while she’s working. You can see her in the hit TV show Reservation Dogs and follow her on Instagram.
By Nastashya Wall

Sources: Living Traditions: Dakota, Nakota, Lakota Art; Explore The Seven Council Fires, Minnesota Historical Society; History of Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council, Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council; Birdtail Sioux Dakota Nation; Dakota / Lakota, Indigenous Saskatchewan Encyclopedia; Dakota Claim in Canada, Turtle Mountain-Souris Plains Heritage Association; Dakota, The Canadian Encyclopedia; The Legend of The White Buffalo, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation; Dakota,Indigenous Languages of Manitoba INC.; Birth of rare white bison calf draws visitors to western Manitoba First Nation, Riley Laychuk CBC. Accessed January 25, 2024.

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