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Prince Charles has refused to apologise on behalf of the Queen for the ‘assimilation and genocide’ of Canada’s schoolchildren – but admitted ‘failures of the Crown’ in the latest colonial row to hit a Royal tour.
The Prince of Wales – currently in the country with Camilla – was embroiled in more controversy, following Sophie and Edward and Wills and Kate’s own troubles.
Canada is dealing with a national scandal stretching back decades that saw thousands of indigenous children die or be abused in the residential school system, with hundreds of human remains discovered last year at former church-run schools.
Many believe the Queen – who is head of state – should say sorry over what happened.
RoseAnne Archibald, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, appealed directly to Charles for an apology from the monarch during a reception in the Canadian capital.
The event featured many leading figures from the country’s indigenous community, along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other prominent individuals.
But the National Chief said she did not receive an admission on behalf of the Queen but the future king ‘acknowledged’ failures by Canadian governments in handling the relationship between the Crown and indigenous people which ‘really meant something’.
Britain’s Prince Charles meets with Assembly of First Nations (AFN) national chief RoseAnne Archibald at a reception hosted by Governor General of Canada Mary Simon and Canada’s Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, in Ottawa
The Duchess of Cornwall and the Prince of Wales attend a reception hosted by the Governor
Cassidy Caron, Metis National Council President, who had said before the event she would also raise the question of an apology from the Queen, said the prince was ‘listening’ and ‘acknowledging’ what had happened in Canada’s past which was ‘very important’ for the country.
Ms Archibald said about her meeting with Charles, hosted by Governor General Mary Simon: ‘I asked for an apology from his mother the Queen, the head of the Anglican church, for whatever happened in the institutions of assimilation and genocide. I also asked for an apology for the failures of the Crown in that relationship that we have with them, in our treaty relationship with them.
‘One of the things that he did say about the relationship was that he recognised there had been failures by those who are responsible for that relationship with the Crown and I thought that was a really, not a surprising thing that he said, but that kind of acknowledgement really meant something.
‘It’s not enough, it’s a first step, we have yet to hear an apology and when that apology happens that again will just be one step on the road to healing for First Nations.’
It follows Prince William and Kate Middleton’s trip to the region last month, which saw the couple face backlash over ‘avoidable PR’ errors. There were several missteps. They were accused of taking part in ‘colonial-style’ photo opportunity by riding around in a 1953 Land Rover inspecting troops, with William wearing military uniform (pictured)
The horrific school system sparking calls for Queen apology
More than 150,000 indigenous children were forcibly taken from their families and placed in residential schools across Canada from 1863 until the 1970s.
The system was created by Christian churches and the Canadian government in the 19th century in an attempt to ‘assimilate’ and convert indigenous youngsters into Canadian society.
The children were forced to cut their long hair, banned from speaking their own languages and many were both physically and sexually abused. An estimated 6,000 children are believed to have died at the schools.
The Prince’s visit – his 19th to the country – will be the first since more than 1,000 unmarked graves were found in unmarked graves at former church-run schools last year.
During protests on Canada’s national day last July, statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II were toppled and desecrated across the country amid fury at the discoveries.
In 1867, the Canadian confederation of what had been separate British colonies in North America were established, creating a self-governing state within the British Empire.
Queen Victoria, who ruled from 1837 until her death in 1901, was on the throne when the residential school system was in full swing.
Victoria never visited Canada and – given her status as a constitutional monarch – had very limited influence over the Government in the UK and even less ability to question policies made in Canada.
The system was largely a result of Canada’s Indian Act, which was passed in 1876 under Canada’s Liberal Prime Minister Alexander MacKenzie.
However, prior to Confederation, it was the passing of the Gradual Civilisation Act – which required indigenous people to speak either English or French – which the system ultimately rested on.
Its aim was for indigenous people to ‘no longer be deemed an Indian’ and instead become regular British subjects.
In 1920, attendance at the residential schools became compulsory for indigenous children between the ages of 7 and 15.
When Dominion Status was formally granted to Canada in 1926, it was recognised as an ‘autonomous’ community within the British Empire.
In 1931, the Statue of Westminster confirmed its full legislative independence, although full sovereignty was not formally passed until 1982.
It meant that, while the indigenous school system continued, the British Government and Monarch were not involved in its maintenance.
It wasn’t until 1982 that the Canadian Constitution was amended to recognize the rights of ‘Indian, Inuit, and Métis peoples of Canada’.
Queen Elizabeth II, who remains Canada’s monarch, has a purely constitutional role both in the UK and in former British colonies where she remains head of state.
It means that, while statues of her have been toppled, she had no ability to influence Canada’s residential school system.
At the end of June last year, an indigenous group said they had found 182 children’ bodies using ground penetrating radar at the former St. Eugene’s Mission School in Cranbrook, British Columbia.
Just a few days earlier, officials in Canada’s Saskatchewan province said they had found 751 unmarked graves on the site of a former residential school in the region.
The Marieval Indian Residential School, in the southeastern Saskatchewan, was operated by the Roman Catholic Church from 1899 to the 1980s.
And in May last year, the remains of 215 children were found at another residential school near Kamloops, British Columbia.
She also presented Charles with statements from two indigenous leaders highlighting claims that promises enshrined in treaties between their people and the Crown had not been honoured and asking for their grievances to be addressed.
In a speech during the first day of his tour of Canada with the Duchess of Cornwall, Charles pledged to listen and learn from Canadians embarking on a process of reconciliation to ‘come to terms with the darker and more difficult aspects of the past’.
When the couple first arrived in the country they visited a Heart Garden in the east coast settlement of St John’s, dedicated to the victims of the residential school scandal, and met survivors during a ceremony of remembrance in the open space.
Ms Caron, who represents the Metis, a distinct indigenous people, originally the offspring of Indian women and European fur traders, said: ‘It might not have been so much of looking for the words of an apology, but in our culture it’s important to acknowledge what has happened in the past.
‘Acknowledge the roles that individuals and institutions might have played in colonisation.
‘And in the last day I have really truly seen that Prince Charles is listening and is acknowledging what has taken place in Canada’s past and that’s very important here in Canada as we continue to move forward.’
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby recently visited Canada and apologised for the ‘terrible crime’ of the Anglican Church’s involvement in the country’s residential schools – and for his church’s ‘grievous sins’ against the indigenous peoples of Canada.
Pope Francis plans to visit Canada this summer to apologise for the abuse suffered by indigenous people at the hands of the Catholic Church.
Ms Simon, who hosted the Wednesday evening reception at her official residence in Ottawa, is the first indigenous person to become Governor General of Canada.
She told her guests: ‘Who are we? A country learning about itself.
‘A country writing its real history, acknowledging the harm done. And who do we want to be?
‘Our country is on a path of reconciliation, is a country that listens. Your royal highnesses, we welcome you on this path with us.’
Charles and Camilla will end their three-day tour celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee on Thursday by visiting the Northwest Territories, where the prince will visit its ice road passage and Yellowknife Bay to see the impact of climate change on local communities.
The prince will also travel to a Canadian Rangers’ base and discuss how the changing climate is affecting their work while the duchess will tour the Kaw Tay Whee School in Dettah and join a class learning a local language.
The furore in Canada comes a month after Prince Edward and Sophie’s Royal Caribbean tour hit problems.
Ambassador Dorbrene O’Marde, Chairman of the Antigua and Barbuda Reparations Support Commission, write an open message to them that could hardly be described as welcoming.
It criticised the Royal Family for past comments on slavery and warned them not to repeat them.
The message said: ‘Everyone in your family continues to live in the splendour, pomp and wealth attained through the proceeds of the crime.
‘It has become common for members of the Royal Family and representatives of the government of Britain to come to this region and lament that slavery was an ‘appalling atrocity’, that it was ‘abhorrent’, that ‘it should not have happened’.
‘We hear the phony sanctimony of those who came before you that these crimes are a ‘stain on your history’.
That came amid ongoing sensitivity over the fall-out of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s recent tour to Belize, Jamaica and The Bahamas.
It proved to be a tricky tour for the couple, who faced protests, allegations of modern-day colonialism and renewed calls for the British realms to finally become republics.
It prompted William to reflect on the issue in a striking speech at the end of the tour, in which he emphasised that the monarchy would support the decision of any former colony to remove their British head of state, saying: ‘We support with pride and respect your decisions about your future. Relationships evolve. Friendships endure.’