Portage la Prairie officially apologizes to Dakota people for expulsion from city a century ago

The City of Portage la Prairie, Man., has officially apologized for what it says was a racially motivated decision that eventually led to the removal of Dakota people from the city a hundred years ago.

Mayor Sharilyn Knox apologized on behalf of the city to the Dakota Plains First Nation during a ceremony in the community Wednesday.

“It is a chapter that has left a lasting impact on the Dakota people and their ancestral lands,” and “one that demands our recognition, reflection and sincere apology,” she said.

In the late 1800s, the Dakota Plains First Nation purchased a tract of land within the limits of Portage la Prairie, a city about 85 kilometres west of Winnipeg that is now home to about 13,000 people.

The city says that in 1911, its council passed a resolution instructing officials write a letter to the federal government suggesting that it was “advisable to have the Indians removed from their present location in the city, owing to their habits of drinking and immorality,” and because their children had “nothing to look forward to” once they left school.

Donald Smoke, the present-day chief of Dakota Plains, said the First Nation had grown to be self-sufficient, and he believes the local government didn’t like that.

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Though ‘we were put here to die off, and to be dependent to the point where we’re no longer a people,’ the people of Dakota Plains First Nation persevered, says Chief Donald Smoke. (Travis Golby/CBC)

“We were put here to die off, and to be dependent to the point where we’re no longer a people,” he said. 

“The federal government, as well as the City of Portage la Prairie, did not like the fact that we wouldn’t conform, so they decided to relocate us.”

Dakota Plains First Nation was moved twice before landing at its current home, about 20 kilometres southwest of Portage la Prairie, Smoke said. The First Nation now has a registred population of just under 300, according to federal statistics.

Through hard work, the First Nation’s people managed to develop what was once just swampland into what the community is today, said Smoke — but they still hoped for an apology.

“I think about my father and my uncle, the past hereditary chiefs here at Dakota Plains. It’s something that they’ve been wanting for years to happen,” Smoke said.

“People are excited that the truth is out there and, you know, to have an apology happening today and to accept that, it means a lot to our people.”

‘Recognize what’s happened in our history’

Mayor Knox said during her apology that the city’s resolution was “a painful reminder of the injustices faced by the Dakota people.”

“These actions not only erase their physical presence, but also undermine their cultural identity and heritage,” she said during the apology, which she said was directed to Dakota Plains in particular, but meant for all Dakota people.

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Portage la Prairie Mayor Sharilyn Knox said the resolution was ‘a painful reminder of the injustices faced by the Dakota people.’ (Travis Golby/CBC)

The mayor told CBC News the council’s 1911 decision was clearly “racially motivated,” and that acknowledging the wrongs committed in the past is the “only way that we’re going to move forward.”

“I believe that we have to recognize what’s happened in our history. I’m the mayor of a beautiful city, but I know that there’s things in the past that we have to acknowledge,” she said.

Premier Wab Kinew, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick and other dignitaries, including the chiefs of Sioux Valley, Birdtail Sioux and Canupawakpa Dakota First Nations, attended the ceremony.

Canupawakpa Chief Raymond Brown said this is one of many apologies owed to Dakota people in Canada.

“Canada declared us refugees in our own traditional territories,” he said. “We as Dakota Nation were here long before a border was ever made.”

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Premier Wab Kinew, AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick, and other dignitaries, including the chiefs of Sioux Valley, Birdtail Sioux and Canupawakpa Dakota First Nations, attended the ceremony. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Kinew told the Dakota Plains representatives at the ceremony that “in spite of being in your own homeland [and] being told to leave, you have continued to persist.”

“You have continued to thrive and you have been a part of this country and this province throughout the whole way.”

The Portage la Prairie city council held a special meeting following the ceremony to pass a formal apology.

Knox and Smoke said they hope to build upon the apology to establish stronger ties between both communities. 

WATCH | Portage la Prairie apologies for displacing Dakota Plains First Nation:

Emotional day on Manitoba First Nation, as city apologizes for racist expulsion order more than a century ago

2 hours ago

Duration 2:36

People gathered in Dakota Plains First Nation Wednesday to hear the mayor of Portage la Prairie apologize for an edict more than 100 years ago that expelled Dakota people from the city.