Royal couple’s Canada visit puts First Nations in the spotlight, but will it last?

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Thousands are expected to crowd into Victoria’s picturesque harbour with its 13ft statue of Queen Victoria to bid farewell to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on Saturday as they wrap up their eight-day tour of Canada.

The whirlwind visit of British Columbia and the Yukon has made headlines around the world, from Prince George’s rebuff of Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, to the royal couple’s sojourn in a three-star Whitehorse hotel best known for the 40-foot wooden Mountie that looms over its parking lot.

But one theme emerged dominant as the royals made their way through an itinerary billed by Kensington Palace as one to celebrate Canada’s First Nations community, its art and culture – that of reconciliation, as frustrated First Nations leaders urged the royals to help mend the fractured relationship left in the wake of British colonisation.

True reconciliation involves the honour of the Crown, the federal government, the provincial government and the indigenous people of this land, Chief Jonathan Kruger of the Penticton Indian Band told the couple as they visited Syilx Nation’s traditional territory on Tuesday.

True power is human spirit, he continued. Please use that power to allocate for true reconciliation and advocate for the Indigenous people in this country so they can be all great and good.

Indigenous Canadians – who make up about 4% of the country’s population – grapple with poverty, imprisonment and suicide at rates much higher than those of non-Indigenous Canadians. In the past three decades as many as 4,000 Aboriginal women have gone missing or been murdered. Overcrowded, mould-ridden houses have become the norm on some First Nations communities while others have waited decades for clean water to flow from their taps.

It is a reality that prompted one of British Columbia’s most prominent First Nations chiefs to turn down an invitation to a reconciliation ceremony with the royals earlier this week. The Black Rod ceremony, said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, was simply a public charade aimed at masking the Canadian government’s continued failure to address First Nations inequalities and injustices.

Other Aboriginal leaders, such as Grand Chief Ed John of the First Nations Summit, did attend the symbolic ceremony, determined to use it as an opportunity to highlight Canada’s fledgling efforts at reconciliation and lobby the royals to take action. The current Crown approaches of deny and delay cannot continue, he told the royal couple. We cannot hope that our future means more litigation or protests on the land, as we see now.

He pointed to residential schools, described as a tool of cultural genocide by a truth commission last year. The purpose of these schools was to kill the Indian in the child. The impact, including Indigenous language loss, have been deep, and now intergenerational.

The message came through forcefully, said Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson. We weren’t there just for a photo op. We were there to advocate for our indigenous rights in the true spirit of reconciliation and to deliver our message around the world.

Prince William, he said, responded by asking what he could do to help. Reconciliation is going to be hard work, said Gottfriedson. It’s going to take partnership and its going to take a number of people to get us to where we need to go.

The message was unwavering as the royal couple travelled north to the Yukon and its stunning backdrop of snow-capped mountains. While 11 First Nations groups in the territory have signed self-government agreements – representing almost half of such agreements signed across the country – much work remains to get the agreements recognised and implemented, said Grand Chief Peter Johnston, of the Council of Yukon First Nations.

Being included in the royal visit was a good step towards asserting the presence of First Nations governments in the territory, he said, describing it as a coming of age for us as First Nations.

But would the royal jaunt – funded by Canadian taxpayers – ultimately amount to better cooperation between First Nations and Canada’s various levels of government? Johnston paused as he contemplated his answer. Unfortunately not. And I mean that with the most respect, he said. We’re in the spotlight today and hopefully that will change some people’s perspective of us. But really, at the end of the day, I’m not too sure what the royals can do to help.

News Source TheGuardianNews

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