Canada’s Governor General says she believes King Charles III is committed to working on reconciliation between the Crown and Indigenous Peoples as he takes over as monarch from his mother, the late Queen Elizabeth II.
Speaking to Mercedes Stephenson on The West Block ahead of her trip to London to attend the queen’s funeral on Monday, Gov. Gen. Mary Simon said while Charles is “very different” from his mother, he shares the same dedication to service and “bringing different cultures and people together.”
“When he was here (during Charles’ last royal visit to Canada in May) we had a lot of opportunities to talk about Indigenous issues, and he’s very committed to reconciliation … between Indigenous peoples and the Crown,” she said.
“He has told me directly that he’s committed to working on these issues, and hopefully I’ll have a lot of opportunities to continue working with them.”
During that May visit, Simon — who is the first Indigenous person to serve as Canada’s representative for the Crown — urged Charles and his wife Camilla to speak to Indigenous people and “hear their stories.”
Charles and Camilla did meet with Indigenous leaders during the tour and acknowledged the “pain and suffering” experienced by residential school survivors, but did not formally apologize for the monarchy’s role in that system, as had been requested by the Assembly of First Nations and other groups.
Simon says she views reconciliation with the Crown as a “living process” that must include ongoing dialogue not just between governments, the monarchy and Indigenous peoples, but among all Canadians.
“It’s not something you just leave and come to it every once in awhile, but rather to keep continuing and finding ways to better build that relationship,” she said.
“We need to talk about these things between ourselves and the public, and not just at the government level. This is about people as well, and I think that relationship between people is an integral part of that building of Canada.”
For now, Simon is focused on representing Canada at Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, where she says she will have a chance for more conversations with King Charles and the governors general of the other Commonwealth realms.
She has also been hard at work along with Canada’s lieutenant-governors on what, for them, is an unprecedented task: ensuring Canadians can leave condolences and say goodbye to the only monarch they have ever known, while also ensuring a seamless transition to King Charles’ reign.
“These are things that we don’t normally do,” she said. “It’s something that’s never really been done since we’ve all been on this earth.
“It was some 70 years ago when Elizabeth became queen. So it’s a new experience for all of us, to carry the responsibility of making sure things are going smoothly, in terms of (Charles’ accession). … And I think we’ve done okay.”
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Simon has found herself reflecting on that historically long reign, and says Queen Elizabeth will be remembered not only for her dedication to duty, but also how she approached that responsibility.
“She carried out that commitment in a way that was always respectful of other cultures, other people,” she said.
“She was also a very strong leader — a calm leader, but a strong leader, a steadfast leader. And I think those are the kinds of things that will be in our history, that we had a queen that was very, very calm but very strong in terms of her leadership.”
Although she had few opportunities to interact with the queen herself since she became Governor General in 2021, Simon remembers those meetings for the kindness and compassion the late monarch showed her.
“The first time I met her after my installation was by Zoom … and she told me to be gentle with myself and take the time to think through things that are before us,” she said. “That has stayed with me ever since I had that meeting with her.”
When Simon and her husband finally got a chance to meet the queen in person in London this past May, she says it was “a very calming experience” that she called “once in a lifetime” and “inspirational.”
Those are the moments that will stay with her long after she returns to Canada from the funeral, she says.
“It can be challenging in terms of trying to find the balance” between mourning the queen’s passing and celebrating her legacy,” she said.
“It’s been sad. Sometimes I have happy moments, remembering the times I met her and how kind and calm she was. So it’s a mixture of feelings.”