DETTAH, Northwest Territories — Royal visits are usually marked by pomp, carefully scripted ceremonies and lavish parties. And there was certainly some of it during a three-day visit to Canada by Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, including a scintillating reception in Ottawa at the official residence of Queen Elizabeth’s representative to Canada.
But Thursday, the last day of the royal tour, the tenor was much more subdued when Charles and Camilla visited the Northwest Territories.
The couple headed to an indigenous community in the far north, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, where the history with the British monarchy was painful.
There is a century-old treaty that the community says the Crown broke. And there is the grim legacy of the now defunct system of compulsory residential schools for Aboriginal children in Canada, for which the Dene hold the Crown in part responsible.
The royal couple arrived in Yellowknife, the provincial capital, around 3:30 p.m. EST on Thursday before heading to the Dene First Nation community. There they went out on gravel and led a meeting with native leaders, where difficult questions were likely.
Prince Charles joined two Indigenous leaders at a large roundtable where they exchanged small talk, including about the Royal Family’s previous visits to the Northwest Territories, before reporters were escorted out of the room. meeting.
Charles’ itinerary for his Canadian tour, including the visit to Yellowknives, was set by the government in Ottawa, highlighting how the country’s history of discrimination against Indigenous peoples has become a major political issue.
In April, Pope Francis issued the first direct papal apology to Indigenous peoples for the role of the Roman Catholic Church in residential schools. He plans to travel to Canada in July to deliver the same apology in person.
On Monday, Charles and Camilla attended a reconciliation event in the province of Newfoundland, where they met Mary Simon, the first Indigenous person to serve as Governor General of Canada, the Queen’s official representative in Canada.
In historic St. John’s, Newfoundland, Charles said, “I know our visit here this week comes at an important time, as Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples across Canada pledge to reflect honestly and openly about the past and to forge a new relationship for the future.
Edward Sangris, 68, is one of the Dene chiefs who met with Charles and Camilla on Thursday. He was one of thousands of children sent to boarding schools. It was a Catholic-run institution in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, until his father defied the authorities and kept him at home.
He declined in an interview to discuss his experiences there, but said the schools – which have become a national scandal and a government commission has ruled a form of ‘cultural genocide’ – are likely to be a topic of conversation. .
“It’s a path of reconciliation,” said Chief Sangris. “While they are not directly responsible for the harm and pain that has been caused, they are indirectly responsible for the actions of the Canadian government.
Since Charles is not yet king, Chief Sangris said before they met that he did not anticipate an apology from Charles on behalf of the royal family.
Charles and Camilla’s visit to Dettah was to last an hour. The couple’s agenda included meetings in the territorial capital of Yellowknife with members of a special military reserve unit in remote northern communities, and a visit to the rapidly melting remnants of an ice road for a discussion on climate change.
Chief Sangris said he recognizes the responsibility and role of the Government of Canada in Indigenous affairs, but believes the monarchy’s symbolic role in treaty-making also makes it responsible for subsequent violations.
In addition to grievances over native schools, the Dene believe that the compensation they receive for allowing mining projects on their traditional lands is less than it should be under the treaty with the Crown.
Ahead of the royal meeting, Chief Sangris said it was unlikely that this dispute would be resolved or that other critical Dene issues, including a severe housing shortage, would be resolved. Chief Sangris’ father met Charles in 1970, when Charles and his mother, Queen Elizabeth, visited Yellowknives. Chief Sangris also met with them at that time and said that many issues raised at the time remained unresolved.
Commenting on Thursday’s visit, Chief Sangris said, “I don’t know what this will bring us.
Generally speaking, it is a time of tension over the role of the monarchy in Britain’s former overseas dominions. Separate tours of the Caribbean this year by Prince Edward, Charles’s brother, and Prince William, the king’s future son, have been the target of protests against the monarchy and Britain’s brutal historical involvement in slavery.
In Canada, Charles faced no such public opposition. But polls show an ever-decreasing number of Canadians want to swear allegiance to another British monarch, as the institution seems increasingly irrelevant in their lives.