Queen Elizabeth’s complicated, ‘ambivalent’ relationship with Indigenous Canadians

Click to play video: 'Death of Queen Elizabeth II elicits complicated feelings amongst Indigenous Canadians'
Death of Queen Elizabeth II elicits complicated feelings amongst Indigenous Canadians
The death of Queen Elizabeth II is sparking discussion with those who saw her as a symbol of the British colonial empire. For many Indigenous people, it's a complicated relationship. Morgan Black reports – Sep 9, 2022

As Canadians remember the life of Queen Elizabeth II, Indigenous people in this country are reflecting on their complicated relationship with the monarchy.

University of Manitoba prof Niigaan Sinclair told 680 CJOB’s The Start that the queen, who died Thursday at 96, represented a variety of different things.

“For Indigenous people, the queen represents treaty — represents our relationship to Canada. The queen is the primary thread in which Indigenous peoples have a relationship with this country, so we take it very seriously.

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“We also take very seriously that she’s a matriarch and she’s a grandmother and she’s a very strong woman. In the Indigenous community, that’s very important.”

At the same time, he said, she presided over a period of history where injustices were done to Indigenous people. Although she was seemingly aware of those issues, she could have used her role to help create more effective change.

“There was a moment in 1970 when she was in The Pas, and she actually said, ‘Canada has done very well for many people but not for Indigenous people,'” Sinclair said.

“So the queen was certainly aware of the problems but was quite ambivalent — people have said that she’s very apolitical, and it doesn’t particularly leave a strong feeling of her reign … for Indigenous peoples, anyway.

“When you’re in a position of power and influence and you do nothing, it’s almost as if you are complicit within that action.”

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There have been indications, Sinclair said, that the new King Charles III has shown more interest in Indigenous issues.

Charles, then Prince of Wales, visited Canada earlier this year with his wife, now Camilla, Queen Consort. The royal couple met with Indigenous Canadians and stressed the importance of reconciliation in public speeches.

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“We must find new ways to come to terms with the darker and more difficult aspects of the past, acknowledging, reconciling and striving to do better,” Charles said at an event in Newfoundland in May.

“It is a process that starts with listening.”

Click to play video: 'Prince Charles and Camilla kick off Canadian tour focused on Indigenous issues'
Prince Charles and Camilla kick off Canadian tour focused on Indigenous issues

Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) told 680 CJOB’s Connecting Winnipeg there’s a long and complex history between First Nations and the Crown, but many Indigenous people admired the queen as an individual and as a woman who was a source of strength for her people over seven decades on the throne.

Despite that, Woodhouse said there is plenty of work ahead for both First Nations and the new King to improve upon.

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“How do we reconcile the harms of British colonial history and the treaty relationship? As the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth carried — as King Charles does now — all the baggage of British colonialism and its harm.

“For First Nations, there’s one important constant of what that relationship is, and it should be a peaceful treaty relationship between sovereign nations — that is the true spirit and intent of treaties.

“The treaty relationship was not supposed to be a relationship of colonizer and colonized, but a peaceful relationship between peoples who agreed to live side by side in mutual support and respect.”

Woodhouse said she commends Charles for his work in his previous role as Prince of Wales in visiting First Nations communities and expressing interest in working with Indigenous people on climate issues and beyond.

“I hope, as King, he’s going to continue to nurture that relationship and abide by the core teachings of treaties,” she said.

“We have lots of work to do together.”

Click to play video: 'Queen’s long and complicated relationship with Canada’s Indigenous peoples'
Queen’s long and complicated relationship with Canada’s Indigenous peoples

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