A historic landmark event took place in the Dakota Plains First Nation on Wednesday, June 26. The City of Portage la Prairie gave an official apology on Dakota land to the First Nation in the community's arbour.

Premier Wab Kinew attended along with the entire Portage la Prairie City Council.

Portage Council also held an official council meeting that convened exactly at 5:16 p.m. where council voted to overturn a law that was created in 1911 in Portage la Prairie forbidding Dakota people to live in the City. The vote was unanimously in favour of overturning that ruling.

Elder Leslie Smoke opened up with prayer and these words:

“Thank you for all the blessings each day and I know that God brought us together this day so that we can look ahead and see better things. Too many long years we missed a lot of things. You must have come down that road. My nephew went out to fix the road for you so you could come in. I'm just thankful for God that took me one day and accepted me and ever since then, I've been going on and on, and on with Him. I'm just thankful for all you come out here to see what little Dakota Plains can do.”

Chief Don Smoke told the gathering that he was happy to see everyone in attendance.

“It's a little emotional for me. I was talking to MLA Jeff Bereza before about my father, the late Chief (Orville Smoke), and how proud he would be for this date to be here, and how proud it would be to see the progress that we're making in and around the area in the unceded territory of the Dakota, and how proud he would be to have the City of Portage la Prairie Council have a meeting within our community to rescind a motion that displaced us as Dakota, and how especially proud he would be that we have a Premier who’s First Nations.”

Council meetingOfficial Portage la Prairie City Council Meeting overturns racist 1911 ruling

Smoke notes his father and uncles predicted many things that would take place. He says during his time growing up, some of those things came true.

“It's just a testament to how they were as a family and as a community," continues Smoke. "We were put here, in my opinion, to die off as a people. I believe that back in the day, there was enough racism in the world and in the area that we put here to hide us so we could become dependent on the federal government. We, as Dakotas, have never conformed and we still, to this day, refuse to do that.”

He added they still have no signed treaties and are working with the different levels of government to establish and be recognized as Dakota people.

“I want to thank everybody here, especially the City of Portage la Prairie, for being so progressive and being here today in the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation.”

Smoke added action needs to go along with these words, but acknowledged the day was a very pivotal one.

“It's an admission. It's an apology, and it's an acceptance by us as the Dakota Plains and as the Smoke family. There wasn't too much here when we were put here, but take a look around. Now, it's beautiful.”

Mayor Sharilyn Knox addressed the crowd and described the event as a profound and significant chapter in the history of Portage la Prairie.

"It is a chapter that has left a lasting impact on the Dakota people and their ancestral lands; one that demands our recognition, reflection, and sincere apology. We acknowledge the historical mistreatment and displacement that was endured by the Dakota people. The City of Portage la Prairie’s resolution of 1911 is 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 added she had a typical upbringing in the province and was largely unaware of the darker aspects of our history, including the injustices faced by the Dakota people.

“It wasn't until I sat on Council that I began to grasp the depth of these historical wrongs. I listened to leaders from the Dakota Community who spoke about the experience of their ancestors and the lasting impact that the City of Portage's motion of 1911 had. Their words were powerful and filled with a deep sense of pain and loss. I remember feeling a mix of emotions, sadness, guilt and overall, a profound sense of responsibility. These conversations were a turning point for me. I realized that my ignorance was part of the problem. I had taken for granted the privileges I enjoyed and had not considered the price others had paid for the development and prosperity of our city.”

Leslie SmokeLeslie Smoke opens in prayer

She explained how the stories of displacement and cultural erasure as well as systemic injustice were not just distant historical events. Knox said they were lived experiences that had been passed down through generations, affecting real people in the community.

“As I delved deeper into our local history, I learned and continued to learn more about the Dakota people's rich culture. I learned about the resilience and strength, they have shown in preserving their heritage and language despite the many challenges they face. This journey of learning and reflection made me realize that Truth and Reconciliation are not optional. They are essential for the health and unity of our community. For me, Truth and Reconciliation means acknowledging the full history of our city, not just the parts that are comfortable or convenient. It means listening to and amplifying the voices of those who have been marginalized and wronged. Reconciliation is important because it's the foundation upon which we can build a more just and equitable Society.”

"We extend our deepest, apologies to the Dakota people for the pain and suffering caused by the City of Portage motion of 1911. We are committed to the path of Truth and Reconciliation. We will work with you toward a future where the Dakota people's legacy is celebrated and integrated into the fabric of our community.

"Chief Smoke, Council, and all Dakota people, we ask that you let us move forward together, embracing reconciliation as a pathway to healing, and build a future where all cultures and histories are valued and respected. We thank you for your partnership and trust on this path. Thank you."

-- Portage la Prairie Mayor Sharilyn Knox

Councillor Ryan Espey read the Acknowledgment and Apology for 1911 Council Resolution, seeing as his portfolio covers the Community Services Committee

“It was a lot, but it was a deep honour to actually bring that forward and have a role in, not only the apology but the education of what actually happened. There was a lot there. You have to acknowledge the history you need in order to move forward.”

Chief Don SmokeChief Don Smoke

Wilbur Pashe is a resident of the Dakota Plains First Nation and notes it was something very historical.

“It's something that we needed. Hearing my uncles and the ones that were passed on, gone now, they spoke about things like this, too. They said someday we'll have reconciliation. It is a very, very nice thing to see the Premier here, too, and the Mayor from Portage and all the Council. It's very exciting.”

Wab KinewManitoba Premier Wab Kinew

As far as actions in the future are concerned, to put feet to the apology, Smoke added, “I'm thinking of some sort of an economic reconciliation where we can partner in hopes of getting some type of our own sources of revenue for the community. Where we are right now, we can't do that. There's no traffic and there's no market. So, we're looking to move closer to Portage la Prairie.”

He notes he thanks Portage la Prairie. He grew up here and loves it. Smoke says he looks forward to a brighter future between themselves and the City Council.

Wab Kinew says this kind of happening in Dakota Plains is a big step in Canada and is very important in terms of righting a historic wrong and saying that although we can't change the past, we can learn from it.

“We can move together in the future in a good way. I know that for Portage, the long-term role is to be a hub for all the communities in the region; to serve people at the new hospital, for people who come in to do their shopping. If you're like me, you go to Popeyes. That hub role means that Portage is a leader, also. I think by the City leadership and Council taking this action and building that relationship with Chief Smoke and Dakota Plains, as well as the broader Dakota community, does send a message to the community and to the surrounding area that this is a path forward.”

To you, the Portage people, Kinew adds, “Your city leadership has taken an important step to advance reconciliation and to ensure that everyone can understand the challenges and mistakes of the past, but understand that everyone's welcome in Portage going forward. I know there are a lot of community members from Dakota Plains and from the other First Nations communities in the area, whether that’s Long Plain and Dakota Tipi, and many others.”

He adds he believes it’s an important step because it's going to help and advance reconciliation, and also send a message to the broader community that Portage is an inclusive place, a positive place that is taking some steps to be a leader in the region, and in the province.”

Grand, Chief of Southern Chief’s Organization Jerry Daniels says it's a monumental occasion in terms of the relationships between the Dakota people, Portage la Prairie, and the leadership of Portage la Prairie.

Sophia SmokeSophia Smoke

"It sets the stage, I think, for a lot of progress and a lot of good relations going forward; whether that's in business or land development. It sets the stage for a lot of good things to come.”

Daniels addresses Portage la Prairie residents noting that they should be proud of their leadership today.

“They reflect where we're going as a society throughout Manitoba and Canada, and I think they have a lot to look forward to with our participation in that. Each and every one of the citizens in Portage are a part of creating that change in the actions that they do, the words that they share, and the way that they work together with their neighbours.”

Sophia Smoke spoke on behalf of the younger generation and outlined the history of how her people came to be where they are in the Dakota Plains.

“The reason our territory is so vast is because when we came up from under the Earth when we were becoming a nation, we were struggling, we were starving and we had newfound enemies. We were the new nation, and no one really knew what to do with us.”

Jerry DanielsGrand Chief Jerry Daniels

She explains the buffalo gave them help by providing shelter and food through the sacrifice of the bison leader. Smoke adds the legend continues with the Dakota people following the bison wherever they roamed ever since.

Smoke addressed Portage in the story, noting her people would endure hard work here and cut ice for the rich people, while the women would clean their houses over the weekend. They were finally able to save $400 to buy Lot 99 which is a 109-acre lot just north of the Assiniboine River

“We finally had our own piece of land. It’s ironic and it's kind of funny to buy something that you should already own. We went, moved, and we lived there in log houses. It was warm and we were flourishing until Portage said that we were drunk and we were a nuisance to the community. They didn't want us anymore. So, we were forcibly removed from the plot of land that we had owned and that we had bought. We were moved to another plot of land. We began to rebuild as we do, and then Portage says ‘We think the land might flood.’ Something that my grandfather told me is that one day when he was a little boy, his brother came home from work in town and said, 'They're going to remove the dike. They're going to flood us on purpose.' So, we were removed once again and now we're here.”

She adds it's good to see the step Portage has taken to apologize.

Elder Kevin Tacan shared how horses in history were called to come and watch what's happening today, as horses were led around the arbour where the gathering was held.

Kathy MerrickGrand Chief Kathy Merrick

“We honour them by coming together and talking in a good way; in a peaceful way about reconciliation. For me, it's good for me to see. I've shared a lot of miles with my grandparents driving up and down the highways, and coming to and from Ontario, Minnesota, and all over the place. And we'd always come back along the highway. And he'd say, ‘Our people used to live in that area, right over there; a Sioux Village. This is where our people used to be.’ And I said, ‘Well, why aren't you there now,’ and this is the result of this.”

He added his grandfather would be extremely happy to see this day.

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Grand Chief Kathy Merrick says their people have come a long way and their past leaders could only envision where they are today.

“This is the beginning of something beautiful for our people that we can be able to accept apologies, that we ensure those relationships with us are meaningful and that when we talk about reconciliation, it's not just a word.”