Canada apologizes to nine First Nations for denying their Aboriginal status News
Dwayne Reilander, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Canada Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree apologized Monday to the nine Dakota and Lakota First Nations for denying their constitutional recognition and protection. The apology symbolized the Canadian government’s formal recognition of these First Nations as “Aboriginal peoples of Canada” under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

In Monday’s gathering in Saskatchewan, Anandasangaree delivered apologies to the Dakota and Lakota Nations on behalf of the Canadian federal government. Despite the non-recognition of the indignities of the Dakota and Lakota Nations, the settlor government inflicted harm on the communities with many racist policies such as the reserve system, the Indian Act and the child welfare system. Along with the affirmation, Anandasangaree stated

We deeply regret the time it has taken to acknowledge the rightful place of the Dakota and Lakota as Aboriginal peoples of Canada with constitutionally protected Section 35 rights and we apologize for the past harms suffered by generations as a result. With today’s statement, we hope to begin writing a new chapter together where trust is rebuilt, rights are respected and our Nation-to-Nation relationships are renewed for the benefit of generations to come.

The First Nations chiefs welcomed the apology as a “significant milestone” to end injustices and discrimination.  Following the apology, the chiefs called on the federal government to continue working with the communities to reconcile and restore the Nation-to-Nation relationships, which involve “the return and conservation of lands, responsible governance, rejuvenation of traditional practices and shared respect for First Nations’ natural resources.”

Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 provides that “the existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.” However, what “existing aboriginal and treaty rights” involve and who enjoys these rights are longstanding disputes in courtrooms.

In 2007, the UN General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Canada announced its unqualified support of the UNDRIP in 2016 and enacted the UNDRIP Act in 2021. The act requires the Canadian government to prepare and implement an action plan to achieve the UNDRIP’s objectives and bring Canadian laws into line with the UNDRIP.  Among all, the UNDRIP obligates states to protect the Indigenous peoples’ right to the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, the right to self-determination and the right to be free from discrimination.

Since the 1870s when the Dominion of Canada was created, the federal government has been undertaking treaties to regulate relationships with the First Nations. However, the settler government did not invite the Dakota and Lakota First Nations to the treaty negotiation process and labeled them “political refugees” fleeing from the oppression of the US after the Battle of the Little Bighorn between the Lakota and the US military.


The First Nations affected are Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, Dakota Plains Wahpeton Nation, Birdtail Sioux Dakota Nation, Canupawakpa First Nation, Dakota Tipi, Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation, Wahpeton Dakota Nation, Whitecap Dakota Nation and Wood Mountain Lakota.