Canada is grappling with the discovery in the past year of evidence of unmarked graves at or near the sites of government-funded, church-run schools. Beginning in the 19th century, Aboriginal people in many cases, children were forcibly taken from their families to be assimilated into boarding schools where they were forbidden to speak their mother tongue or practice their culture. The last residential school closed in the 1990s. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada concluded in 2015 that the system amounted to “cultural genocide.”
At Charles and Camilla’s the itinerary, which will also take them to Ottawa and the Northwest Territories, includes prayer in Inuktitut, Mi’kmaq music, a fire-feeding ceremony and visits to Indigenous communities to learn more on efforts to preserve their languages, in addition to more common royal ceremonies tour rates, such as ceremonies at the National War Memorial in the capital.
“There are moments in this tour that are traditional,” said royal historian Carolyn Harris, a professor at the University of Toronto. “But when you look at the itinerary, you can see that it’s very topical…and full of events that are going to be relevant in the 2020s.”
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Clarence House said the tour “will focus on learning from Indigenous people”. But in a country where protesters against the mistreatment of Indigenous people have toppled statues of British monarchs in recent years – including Elizabeth and her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria – some want more than that. ‘listen.
“The entire colonial power structure was responsible for the residential school system,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “I think they really should apologize.”
Cassidy Caron, President of the Métis National Council, stated that the Anglican Church ran the first residential schools when Canada was a British colony. If she meets Charles at an engagement she is attending in Ottawa, she plans to tell him that the Queen, who is the head of the Church of England, the mother church of Anglicanism worldwide, should listen to the survivors and acknowledge the harm done to them.
“The Queen definitely has a role to play in reconciliation,” Caron said. “If it starts with an apology, that’s wonderful.”
The visit comes at a complicated time for the royal family, with Elizabeth, 96, in the twilight of her reign and several royal headaches – foreign and domestic – threatening to cast a shadow over celebrations to mark her platinum jubilee.
Prince Harry, who stepped down from royal duties last year, plans to publish an “intimate” memoir this year. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, the Queen’s grandson and his biracial wife, Meghan, said an anonymous member of the royal family asked about the skin color of their unborn child.
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Elizabeth’s second son, Prince Andrew, in February settled a sex abuse lawsuit brought by a woman who claims she was trafficked by financier Jeffrey Epstein and forced her to have sex with him, including two decades ago, when she was 17.
In November, Barbados became the first Commonwealth realm in nearly three decades to relinquish the Queen as head of state and declare itself a republic, providing potential inspiration for the remaining 15 kingdoms, particularly those in the Caribbean, amid a broader judgment on colonialism spurred in part by the Black Lives Matter movement.
During sometimes rocky royal tours of the Caribbean this year, family members have faced calls for apologies and reparations for the slave trade, and photos of the royal family have echoed a imperial past in what critics called goofy and disconnected.
Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness told Prince William, the Queen’s grandson, and his wife, Catherine, in March that the island nation would at some point “move on”. Their tour sparked protests at several stops; a planned visit to a cocoa farm in Belize was scuttled amid local opposition.
When Prince Edward, the Queen’s third son, and his wife, Sophie, visited Antigua and Barbuda in April, the country’s prime minister told them he aspired “at some point to become a republic” – even if it is “not in the cards”. right now. The couple “postponed” a visit to Grenada, citing the advice of local officials.
The visits have raised questions about the place of the monarchy in the Commonwealth and whether royal visits still make sense or need to be rethought.
Harris said Canada was generally a “friendly” destination for the royal family. But while the Queen still commands respect in the country, even among non-monarchists, Charles, her first son and heir to the throne, is less popular. He no longer draws the large crowds that greeted him and Princess Diana in the 1980s.
Polls here show declining support for the country to remain a constitutional monarchy, particularly under Charles’ reign as king. But severing those ties would be a complex process, requiring a constitutional amendment backed by both Houses of Parliament and all 10 provincial legislatures.
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“It seems unlikely that any politician would choose to stake his career on the issue of reopening the constitution to move from a monarchy to a republic,” Harris said. “What’s more likely in the 21st century is that we simply have less visibility for the royal family.”
Such a decision could also require reworking or reopening treaties between the Crown and Indigenous peoples.
The Royal Family have met Indigenous leaders here on their many visits to Canada.
In 1970, during a 10-day tour, an Aboriginal chief greeted Elizabeth, noting that in the century since her ancestors signed treaties with Queen Victoria, “promises of peace and of harmony, social progress and equality of opportunity have not been achieved. by our people.
“We hope Your Majesty’s representatives will now…acknowledge past injustices and take steps to redress the treatment of Manitoba Indians,” said David Courchene of the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood.
During a royal visit in 2017 to mark the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, Charles and Camilla were criticized for bursting into laughter during a performance by Inuit throat singers in Iqaluit.
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Large crowds greeted William and Kate on their Canadian tour in 2016 – touted as one that would “help celebrate Canada’s First Nations communities”. But several prominent Indigenous leaders have turned down invitations to a reconciliation ceremony in Victoria, British Columbia, a provincial capital named after the British monarch.
Phillip, the big chief, was among them. He said such tours tend to “whitewash the brutality of the colonial experience with Indigenous peoples.”
“In my opinion, these are just grand photo ops,” he said. “They’re trying to make themselves look good, and there’s no substance to the statements they make. There is no effort to do things right.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Queen Victoria as Queen Elizabeth II’s great-grandmother. Victoria was Elizabeth’s great-great grandmother. The article has been corrected.