As Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla prepare to visit Canada this week, some members of the indigenous community are calling on the British royal family to formally acknowledge the harm colonisation did to First Nations people.
The royal couple will arrive in St. Johns, Newfoundland on Tuesday (May 17) on a three-day trip that will include stops in Ottawa and the Northwest Territories and focus on the issues of reconciliation with indigenous peoples and climate change.
The impact of colonization, the residential school system and the loss of lands is what the crown represents, Mary Teegee, the executive director of child and family services at Carrier Sekani Family Services in the province of British Columbia said.
“They also have to understand that they are not the leaders in our nation,” Teegee said, adding that recognition of the harms of colonization are needed rather than just a “trite” apology.
Although Canada ceased being a colony of Britain in 1867, it remained a member of the British Empire, with a British-appointed governor-general acting on behalf of the monarch.
And it was under the guise of the crown and Canada’s federal government that some 150,000 indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and enrolled in a Christian-run network of residential schools between 1831 and 1996.
That policy, described by some as a form of cultural genocide, and survivors’ accounts of harsh, paramilitary-like conditions have been under the microscope since the discovery in 2021 of the remains of more than 200 children buried in unmarked areas on the grounds of one such school in B.C.
CBC News on Monday quoted Cassidy Caron, the president of the Métis National Council, an indigenous group, as saying Queen Elizabeth should apologize to the residential school survivors.
Caron said she plans to deliver that message when she meets Charles, the heir to the British throne, and Camilla during their visit, which is part of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations marking the queen’s seven decades on the throne.
DISTANT ALIEN THING
Jess Housty, a community organizer for the Heiltsuk Nation in B.C., said that while she doesn’t care about the visit, it’s hard to ignore the colonial past and the “bad relations that have happened for centuries.”
The monarchy is “this distant alien thing that feels really irrelevant in my life and work,” Housty said.
An opinion poll released by the Angus Reid research group in April shows support among Canadians to abolish the country’s constitutional monarchy rising, with about 51% saying it should disappear in coming generations, up from 45 per cent in January 2020.
While acknowledging there were a lot of people in her community who didn’t actively support the monarchy, Housty conceded that many had been excited when Britain’s Prince William and his wife Kate visited her area in 2016.
That excitement is on display once again this week, said St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen said, adding that the province of Newfoundland and Labrador is looking forward to the arrival of Charles and Camilla.
“People have respect for the queen and have respect for the family,” Breen said.