Prince Charles rewrites speech on flight to wade into indigenous rights row

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Prince Charles greets indigenous women during a ceremony in Heart Garden - GEOFF ROBINS
Prince Charles greets indigenous women during a ceremony in Heart Garden - GEOFF ROBINS

The Prince of Wales has made a major intervention in support of the indigenous people of Canada in their battle for colonial wrongs to be recognised, saying their "pain and suffering" must be understood.

In an unexpectedly impassioned speech during his final hours in Canada, he said he had been "deeply moved" by meeting the survivors of the residential school scandal, who were taken from their families and in many cases abused at church-run institutions.

Paying tribute to their "courage" in sharing their stories with the Prince and Duchess, he said the couple "want to acknowledge their suffering and to say how much our hearts go out to them and their families".

"All leaders have shared with me the importance of advancing reconciliation in Canada," he said.

"We must listen to the truth of the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples, and we should work to understand better their pain and suffering.

"We all have a responsibility to listen, understand and act in ways that foster relationships between Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in Canada."

Earlier on Thursday, the Prince of Wales stopped short of apologising on behalf of the Queen for the “assimilation and genocide” of Canada’s indigenous children, but leaders conceded that his “acknowledgement” of past wrongs is nevertheless a first step towards peace.

RoseAnne Archibald, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, had appealed directly to the Prince for an apology from his mother during his Platinum Jubilee visit to Canada.

The Prince of Wales tried out a snowmobile when he met the Canadian Rangers on Thursday - GETTY IMAGES
The Prince of Wales tried out a snowmobile when he met the Canadian Rangers on Thursday - GETTY IMAGES
Justin Trudeau and the Prince of Wales - Arthur Edwards/Pool/Getty Images
Justin Trudeau and the Prince of Wales - Arthur Edwards/Pool/Getty Images

Leaders had promised to challenge the Prince during a reception at the governor general’s residence, where guests from the country’s indigenous community gathered alongside the Prince and Justin Trudeau, the country’s prime minister.

On Thursday evening, in final closing remarks at Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, the Prince told a crowd including elders and leaders of indigenous communities: "Our visit has enabled us to deepen our understanding of this important moment in Canada’s journey."

It is understood that the Prince had originally intended to say only brief words about the trip, the environment, and the Queen's Platinum Jubilee at the ceremony, but changed his mind after hearing from residential school survivors, indigenous community leaders and Canada's Governor General throughout the three-day tour.

In remarks finalised while on the flight from Ottawa to Yellowknife for the final leg of the tour, the Prince opted to say more about the scandal, adding his voice in support of indigenous people.

His contribution will be viewed as deeply significant, as a representative of the Queen and in his roles as a future head of state in Canada.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall visited a market in Yellowknife - GETTY IMAGES
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall visited a market in Yellowknife - GETTY IMAGES

It comes a year after the discovery of hundreds of bodies of schoolchildren in an unmarked grave shocked the Canadian people.

They are currently undergoing a process of "reconciliation", with indigenous leaders calling on the Queen - as Queen of Canada and head of the Anglican Church - to apologise and support reparations for the families of the estimated 150,000 children taken from their homes to be "integrated" outside their own traditions.

The three-day tour has been dominated by the topic, with the Prince and Duchess already attended a Heart Garden ceremony to acknowledge both lost and surviving residential school children.

The final day of the royal visit to Canada saw the Prince and Duchess visit the remote community of Dettah, where the whole community of around 220 people, plus curious visitors from the surrounding areas, turned out to see them.

Welcomed with a “Feeding the Fire Ceremony”, where offerings of tobacco were thrown into a fire pit to the sound of drums, the couple heard prayers to the spirits before splitting for separate programmes.

The Prince sat down with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation leadership, and was praised for a show of respect after joining in with a dance not unlike a conga.

Charles' dancing impresses the locals

The 1,000-year-old traditional Dene Drum Dance saw him shuffle his way around the room in time to a beat, surrounded by locals, some of whom took selfies as the Prince passed by.

Jennifer Drygeese, 67, said afterwards: "He was really good, he had rhythm. He really looked like he enjoyed himself.

"It means a lot to us. He just got up and danced. He looked like he has done it before."

Chief Edward said: "It was awesome. He fitted right in. It shows he really does care about the community."

The Duchess, meanwhile, visited the 32 children at the small local school, to join a language lesson, watch art made from dyed fish scales, and present them with a stack of books including Michael Morpurgo's fairytale There Once Is A Queen written for the Platinum Jubilee.

Camilla receives stress ball made of beaver fur

The Duchess of Cornwall laughed when she was presented with a fluffy gift and was told it was a stress ball made of beaver fur.

"Everybody needs a stress ball," Camilla said.

Jane Dragon, 81, handmade the ball for the duchess, explaining: "It's from sheared beaver."

"We are very lucky to see them," Ms Dragon added.

"I met the Queen when she came and now they are here."

Prince of Wales, Justin Trudeau and Steven Guilbeault - Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Prince of Wales, Justin Trudeau and Steven Guilbeault - Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Later in the day, the Prince viewed the spot where an ice road is supposed to connect the Dettah community to the Northwestern Territories capital city of Yellowknife, which is melting earlier in the spring-summer heat thanks to climate change. Today, it is just water.

In the final engagement of the trip, a speech on the waterfront in Yellowknife, the Prince said: "Now, today, we have had the greatly valued opportunity of spending time with members of the Dene First Nation, renewing connections I established more than fifty years ago when I visited with The Queen and my late father, The Duke of Edinburgh.

"Here we have been honoured to learn more about self-determination, the vital preservation of culture and language, and the increasingly disastrous impact of climate change on ways of life and the balance of Nature."

Paying tribute to the "diversity, compassion and inclusivity" of Canadians, he added that he and the Duchess' "great hope" for their trip had been to "listen to, and learn from Canadians directly".

"This hope has been more than fulfilled," he said. "We have treasured beyond words the way that so many people have shared with us their experiences, their ideas and their example."

Prince's acknowledgement 'really meant something'

Ms Archibald said that she did not receive any admission on behalf of the Queen. However, she added that the Prince’s decision to “acknowledge” failures by Canadian governments in handling the relationship between the Crown and indigenous people “really meant something”.

Ahead of the visit, Cassidy Caron, the president of the Metis National Council, promised to raise the question of a personal apology from the Queen.

At the conclusion of the reception, she conceded that the Prince had been “listening”, with his efforts to discuss Canada’s past being “very important” for the country.

The leaders were hosted by Mary Simon, the governor general and the first indigenous person to hold the position.

Prince of Wales and Mary Simon - Ian Vogler/Pool/Getty Images
Prince of Wales and Mary Simon - Ian Vogler/Pool/Getty Images

Ms Archibald said of her conversation with the Prince: “I asked for an apology from his mother, the Queen, 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.”

She also presented the Prince 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.

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall - Chris Jackson/Getty Images
The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall - Chris Jackson/Getty Images

In a speech during the first day of his tour of Canada with the Duchess of Cornwall, the Prince 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”.

The couple attended a moving ceremony at a heart garden, to honour the victims of the residential school scandal and their families.

Ms Caron 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.”

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