Queen deserves respect, not hate: Why Indigenous leaders are hopeful despite monarchy's role in colonial violence

This year, as Canada recognizes its second National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, or Orange Shirt day, many Canadians also highlighted the paradox of marking a holiday for a symbol of ‘genocidal colonialism’ 11 days prior—the Queen’s funeral on Sept. 19.

The news of a federal holiday announced by PM Justin Trudeau to mourn the late Queen was received with mixed reactions by many people in the country. While someone said that the Sept. 19 holiday “celebrates violent colonialism”, others mentioned that they will be taking the day to mourn the “victims of colonialism and imperialism” instead.

Speaking about Sept. 19 being designated as a federal holiday, Cindy Woodhouse, AFN Regional Chief for Manitoba said the Queen deserves a lot of respect, not hate.

“You know, I was reflecting this past week after she passed away and I pulled out my father’s old treaty medal with my family and we talked about that…our treaty relationship, the sacred covenants with the Royals and the monarchy,” she said.

You know, people in Canada raise the question: 'Oh, why do we need the monarch?’ Well, that’s who we made treaties with. If you want to try and get away from that and we want to break ties with them then fine! But then all the land automatically comes back to First Nations people. So I have to caution people on that as well.Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse

“Is our relationship with the Queen all daisies? No, absolutely not. But at the same time, we have rights that need to be honoured and respected.”

Also speaking about several First Nations National Chiefs being present in London for the Queen’s funeral on Monday, Woodhouse is glad that National Indigenous leaders are going there to show their respects.

“I’m glad we’re going there and I hope these relationships are built,” she said. “I think we have to keep working, working really hard. But I know we’re moving forward—it’s just going to take some time.”

Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, Chair on Truth and Reconciliation and Professor at Lakehead University had a similar view as Woodhouse.

“There’s definitely a lot of ties between the monarchy and the First Nations people—mostly because of the treaties. But having a day to mourn the Queen shouldn’t affect our National Day on Sept. 30,” she said.

Canada celebrates 2nd National Day of Truth and Reconciliation

Speaking about the progress we’ve made as we approach the second National Day of Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30, Wesley-Esquimaux said we’ve made a good amount of progress in the last year.

“The thing about the calls to action is that the responsibilities of the federal government have been and must be addressed. It’s also the responsibility of the churches, which are working on a covenant to recognize their role in the implementation of the Doctrine of Discovery and to refute it—that’s going on.”

“The child welfare piece has been challenged vigorously and the Human Rights Commission of Canada has said that Canada was discriminating. Many schools have mandated education on the Indian residential schools and the history of Canada properly. So, you know, the Justice call to action is probably the biggest one—and that has a significant way to go. But there are so many teaching schools and communities across Canada, so I think we’ve done a pretty good job!” she added.

Woodhouse also added that everyone should celebrate and honour the day on Sept. 30 and urged the provinces to follow the Federal government.

“People have called and asked, ‘how do we celebrate this day?’ I’m like, ‘Well, remember it!’” she added. “I think there are a lot of people who love us and want to move forward with us.”

Many provinces are coming together in different ways to celebrate the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.

Ottawa is hosting a ceremony at Parliament Hill that will feature presentations, performances, and several speakers. There will also be a ‘Traveling Song & Spirit Walk’ that will be led by children and residential school Survivors.

What is the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation?

The first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation was marked last year as an annual commemoration to honour the children who died while attending residential schools and the survivors and families who are still affected by the legacy of the residential school system.

The federal statutory holiday was approved by Parliament only days after more than 200 unmarked graves were discovered on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C and another investigation discovered 700 more unmarked graves around the Marieval Indian Residential School east of Regina.

On June 5, 2021, the Bill C-5 received royal assent from the Queen. Although the original date proposed was June 21, the final date was set for Sept. 30 instead after consultation with Indigenous groups and individuals in Canada.

Sept. 30 was previously marked as Orange Shirt Day, which started in 2013 to honour residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad, whose orange shirt was taken away on the first day of school.

The role of the monarch in residential schools

Although the federal residential school system began around 1883, the origins of the system can be traced back to the 1830s—long before the Canadian Confederation in 1867, when the Anglican Church established a residential school.

The churches built the residential school system to solve the “Indian question” in Canada—the perceived threat by Indigenous Peoples on the construction of the newly forming nation of Canada.

Therefore, the government developed a system to mimic schools in the British colonies, where governments and colonial powers used large boarding schools to convert masses of Indigenous and poor children into Catholics and Protestant.

Canada adopted this to enforce the adoption of “European traditions, languages and lifestyles” in First Nations, Métis and Inuit children.

Even though this happened before the Queen, several Indigenous people still believe that the monarch is responsible for the ongoing settler agenda and that it’s the monarch’s responsibility to keep the reconciliation efforts going.

“You know, there are a lot of Indian people that feel very strongly about the Queen and are now hopeful that her son will address the Doctrine of Discovery and make some decisions that will improve relationships,” Wesley-Esquimaux said.

It’s important that the Crown make the proper concessions to Indigenous people, that we move this reconciliation process forward.Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, Chair on Truth and Reconciliation and Professor at Lakehead University

“I suppose that the death of the Queen and the installation of Charles III has a possibility of modernizing relationships,” she added. "But I've never really been a monarchist myself."