Prince William got a lesson in both colonial history and modern politics from First Nations leaders Monday night in Victoria when he participated in a politically charged ceremony.
William and Kate attended a VIP reception hosted by the B.C. government, where William added a ring of reconciliation to the Black Rod.
The ceremonial staff, which was created in 2012 to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, is used in the legislature when the monarch or her provincial representative is present.
The new ring is meant to represent the connection between the Crown, Indigenous peoples and all British Columbians.
Controversy about the ceremony was sparked earlier in the day when prominent B.C. First Nations leader Stewart Phillip, the grand chief of the Union of B.C. Chiefs, announced he would not attend the event, as a protest of what he called provincial and federal government inaction on key First Nations concerns.
"The chiefs in assembly felt it would not be appropriate for me to participate in a 'reconciliation' ceremony at this time," he said in statement on Monday morning.
A lesson in empire and genocide
But other First Nations leaders did attend, including Grand Chief Ed John, of the First Nations Summit, who spoke at the event calling for a change in how the Crown interacts with First Nations.
"The current Crown approach of deny and delay cannot continue," he said. "The status quo has not served Indigenous people well."
John went on to deliver a pointed lecture of sorts to the royal couple about cultural genocide, saying the British Empire "unilaterally took all Indigenous lands on behalf of the Crown, and called it Crown land. The land became known as British Columbia."
B.C. Regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson, who was also at the event, later issued a statement saying the ceremony was both a symbolic and important step in the journey toward reconciliation.
"We are all here to stay and we must use every opportunity to ensure our voices, perspectives and positions are heard when government, representatives of the monarchy and the monarchy themselves are present," said Gottfriedson.
"But we must remember that reconciliation is not merely symbolic, nor is it a destination, it is an action and a journey that must manifest in relationship building."
First Nations prominent on visit
Prince William made no public comments at the ceremony, but the royal couple has made meeting with First Nations a priority on their eight-day trip.
On Tuesday, the royals are off to the Okanagan to visit Premier Christy Clark's riding, where they will tour the University of British Columbia campus and visit the Mission Hill Winery before flying to Whitehorse in the evening where they will attend a First Nations cultural performance.
Wednesday they will visit the Carcross/Tagish First Nation near Whitehorse and on Thursday they will visit the Haida Nation on the North Coast of B.C.