Archaeological evidence indicates that the Dakota (Sioux) occupied what is now western Ontario and eastern Manitoba prior to 1200 AD, and western Manitoba and eastern Saskatchewan prior to 900 AD. These populations later withdrew to the drainage basins of the Red, Mississippi and Rainy rivers, where they were located when first contacted by Pierre Radisson in 1659. By then the Siouan-speaking Dakota population had divided into 3 groups. Farthest east, along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, dwelt the Dakota (Santee Sioux), who practised horticulture, occupied semipermanent villages, harvested wild rice as a food staple and hunted buffalo (see Buffalo Hunt). Between the Mississippi and the lower Missouri River were the Nakota (Yanktonai Sioux), speakers of a similar dialect to the Dakota as spoken by the Assiniboine and Stoney of Canada. This population wintered along the wooded tributaries of the Mississippi and summered on the plains, hunting big game. Farthest west along the Missouri River lived the Lakota (Teton Sioux), who were wholly mobile and largely dependent upon the buffalo. Dakota and Lakota are dialects of the Sioux languages spoken on the prairies. Even though different in many respects, all 3 groups were politically united and referred to themselves collectively as Dakota (Nakota, Lakota) or "the allies."

Territorial Sovereignty

After acquiring horses in the early 1700s, the Dakota expanded their territory from the Mississippi River to the Yellowstone River, and from the Platte River to the Qu'Appelle River. Hudson`s Bay Co records from Fort Qu'Appelle to Rainy Lake House (Fort Frances, Ont) commonly mention the Dakota occupying that territory from the late 1700s.

During the War of 1812, the Dakota pledged their alliance to Britain, in return for oaths of perpetual obligation. This alliance was betrayed at the Treaty of Ghent (1814), when Britain abandoned her native allies as a term of peace. The Dakota then drew closer to their lands in the US; however, though land use in Canada decreased, the northern territory was never abandoned.

The western expansion of the Americans ended Dakota territorial sovereignty when, in 1862, the US military, after the Minnesota Uprising, drove some of the eastern population into Canada, where they have since taken up reserve lands in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. A few Lakota, including Sitting Bull, moved into southern Saskatchewan following the Battle of the Little Big Horn (1876).

The Dakota have since been treated as political refugees by Canadian governments. They were never admitted to treaty, as were all other Plains Aboriginal populations, and were expected to make their own future in Canada (see Indian Treaties). The Dakota became commercial farmers, producers of specialty crops, woodworkers, cattle ranchers, small-scale resource exploiters and labourers, traditions that are carried on today.

Fewer Opportunities

The Jay Treaty, signed in 1794 between Great Britain and the United States, held that Aboriginal people born in Canada were provided access to the United States for the purpose of employment, study, retirement, investing, and/or immigration. Although the Jay Treaty was an agreement between the British government and the United States it is not an Aboriginal treaty; but under the treaty, Aboriginal people have travelled freely between Canada and the United States without registering at the border or using visas.

The Dakota have long argued over their Aboriginal interests in Canada and the debt owed them for the War of 1812. Canada has consistently labelled the Dakota "American Indians" or immigrants and, therefore, not owed the same level of obligation as the treaty Indians. Over the decades this has meant less land for reserves, less support for economic development and less access to opportunities. The Dakota Nations of Canada, an association representing the political interests of member communities, initiated a specific claim against the government of Canada for lands taken from them unlawfully. In spite of their diminished status in Canadian Aboriginal law, the Dakota have taken a prominent role in the recent development of Aboriginal Self-Government, community-controlled education, and the development of regional and national businesses.

In 1996 the Dakota in Canada numbered about 12 500 living in the 12 reserve communities. The Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council (DOTC) was established in Brandon, Man in 1974 and was the first federally recognized tribal council. Today the DOTC represents 8 bands including the Dakota Plains and the Long Plain nations.

See also Aboriginal People: Plains and general articles under Aboriginal People.