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How Charles and Camilla will deal with a colonial past when they visit St. John’s


Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall visit Canada House in London on Thursday, ahead of a royal tour that begins Tuesday in St. John’s. (AP)

Prince Charles and Camilla will only be in St. John’s for a few hours on Tuesday, but their short stay – the first leg of a three-day Canadian tour – will include a moment that is part of a larger theme for their visit.

During their stopover in St. John’s on Tuesday, Prince Charles and Camilla will visit Government House and enter what officials say is a “solemn” reflection and prayer at the Heart Garden, a tribute to Indigenous children who died in residential schools.

They will listen to an Inuktitut prayer and listen to Mi’kmaw music, watch artists perform a song and story show, and meet Indigenous guests and dignitaries, all in what has been described as a “spirit of reconciliation “.

The event is part of the tour’s focus on restoring relations with Indigenous peoples, which not only marks an acknowledgment of the wrongdoings of the Crown, but also raises questions about the responsibility the Royal Family has for today is about colonialism.

Mary Simon, Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General, billed the royal visit as a chance to “showcase the evolution of our country, our diverse and inclusive society, and the resilience of Indigenous communities”.

For the event at the Heart Garden, a quiet corner on the grounds of the Lieutenant Governor’s official residence near downtown St. John’s, invitations were sent out to representatives of five different Indigenous groups in Newfoundland and -Labrador.

At least one prominent leader, however, is not present.

Johannes Lampe, president of Nunatsiavut, the government that represents Inuit in northern Labrador, told CBC News he was happy to be invited but was busy that day. Nunatsiavut is holding a swearing-in ceremony for its newly elected representatives on Tuesday, and its responsibilities, he said, lie with its people.

Another leader hopes the royal visit will focus on indigenous issues.

Todd Russell, chair of the NunatuKavut Community Council, which represents people claiming Inuit ancestry in southern Labrador, said such a visit makes sense and can mean a sea change in how Indigenous voices are included. and heard.

How Charles and Camilla will deal with a colonial past when they visit St. John’s
Nunatsiavut Government Speaker Johannes Lampe, left, and NunatuKavut President Todd Russell chat with reporters in St. John’s during a protest against the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. (Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

Russell, however, refrained from calling the couple’s Canadian tour solely a reconciliation.

“We would certainly feel that it’s done with some integrity, that it’s not a tick mark, [that] we need to include indigenous peoples. I think it’s deeper than that,” Russell said.

“Still, I believe we should recognize it for what it is. It’s a visit from the royal family. It’s an occasion where our relationship can be highlighted. But I wouldn’t go too far to say that the royal visit is really about the reconciliation itself, that it was a major feature of why the visit is happening.”

Russell sees the visit as an opportunity to showcase the culture of his people and elevate the work being done on reconciliation.

The Crown and Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Very few recognize the relationship between the Crown — now represented by provincial and federal governments — and Indigenous peoples, Russell said.

This relationship was cemented in the Royal Proclamation of 1763, an act that sought to protect Aboriginal lands.

How Charles and Camilla will deal with a colonial past when they visit St. John’s
Stickers and ribbons were affixed to the doors of the Colonial Building, across from Government House in St. John’s, protesting Canada’s history with residential schools. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

However, Indigenous groups across Canada say the monarchy failed to deliver on its promises and the consequences fell on the shoulders of Indigenous peoples through loss of land, culture and life.

The introduction of the boarding school system was influenced by British colonialism.

Reaction to the royal family and its broader role with Indigenous peoples has been mixed, Russell said.

“We often feel that the Crown and its governments have failed to deliver on their promises and have failed to uphold the values ​​of the relationship, that it is really agreements and relationships that are born out of so-called equality” , did he declare.

Yet, Russell said, he sees the visit as an opportunity to learn, because reconciliation born of ignorance serves no purpose at all.

“I think it’s important that the Crown and the Monarchy are fully aware of what their respective representative governments are doing, their relationship, because they represent the Crown,” Russell said.

Steps in the right direction

For too long, Labrador Inuit have been shunned and ignored, said Lampe.

Relations between Inuit and the governments of Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador are slowly recovering, he said, but it will be a long journey that will continue beyond his lifetime.

How Charles and Camilla will deal with a colonial past when they visit St. John’s
The Heart Garden at Government House in St. John’s, unveiled in June 2019, will be the focus of Tuesday’s royal visit. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

“I believe this is a step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go,” said Lampe, highlighting painful memories of the forced relocation of Inuit from Hebron and Nutak communities in the years 1950, and boarding schools. .

“Children were being taken and brought to boarding schools so the work of trying to sort things out is going on but it’s a slow and very difficult process sometimes we have to address very difficult issues or things that need to be said , whether to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, or to Canada.”

Lampe highlights the creation of the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee, which is based on the premise that an equal partnership between Inuit and the Crown is essential to the reconciliation process. The committee meets three times a year.

How Charles and Camilla will deal with a colonial past when they visit St. John’s
Prince Charles has been heir apparent to the British throne since 1952. He is the longest serving heir apparent in history. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Today’s royals seem far removed from the struggles facing Indigenous communities across Canada, but Lampe said they have a role to play in reconciliation. What exactly that looks like, however, is unclear.

“I still believe that what the royal family says or can say would be very important in helping the reconciliation process,” said Lampe.

For Lampe, understanding Labrador Inuit culture must go beyond observing drumming and throat singing. He said this is just a glimpse of a culture.

There are no great excuses for the expected colonial misdeeds in the pomp and circumstance of the three-day tour, and Russell said he didn’t expect it.

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