Indigenous groups share condolences after death of Queen Elizabeth, but colonial past leaves some conflicted

Indigenous organizations in Manitoba are sending condolences to the Royal Family after the death of Queen Elizabeth on Thursday, but some in the community remain conflicted over the Crown's colonial history of abuses against First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.

First Nations in Manitoba treaty territories 'greatly value the sacred treaty relationship' with Crown: AFN

Queen’s death prompts complex emotions for Indigenous people

7 months ago
Duration 2:02
For Indigenous people, the death of Queen Elizabeth is prompting a range of emotions given their fraught relationship with the monarchy and its colonial legacy.

Indigenous organizations in Manitoba are sending condolences to the Royal Family after the death of Queen Elizabeth on Thursday, but some in the community remain conflicted over the Crown's colonial history of abuses against First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.

The 96-year-old, who was Canada's head of state and the longest-reigning British monarch, died Thursday afternoon at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

The Assembly of First Nations and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs released a joint statement saying they were saddened to hear the news.

Cornell McLean, deputy grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said First Nations have a special relationship with the Crown.

"We are two sovereign nations who come together to honour the treaties between us, and we look forward to working with the new King as treaty partners," his statement reads, adding the Queen's family members "are in our thoughts and prayers during this time."

AFN regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse said the Queen served with "distinction, wisdom, consistency and honour in times of peace and in times of war."

Sagkeeng First Nation Chief Donovan Fontaine waits to greet Queen Elizabeth on the Esplanade Riel during her visit to Winnipeg on July 3, 2010. The Assembly of First Nations, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Manitoba Métis Federation all issued statements after the death of the Queen on Thursday. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

"As sovereign nations, First Nations in the treaty territories located in Manitoba greatly value the sacred treaty relationship with the British Crown," she said in the joint statement.

She offered sympathies to the Queen's son, Charles, "as he assumes his responsibilities as monarch, including nurturing the treaty relationship with First Nations."

With a new monarch on the throne, Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand hopes to see a good relationship between the Crown and Indigenous peoples of Canada moving forward.

"I'm hoping that the compassion and the professionalism of Queen Elizabeth will linger" with the new King, he said.

Although Chartrand never met her, he believes Queen Elizabeth showed respect and dedication to Indigenous people.

He expressed hope that King Charles "will carry that same torch."

A complicated history

Despite the well-wishes and deep respect for the Queen among some Indigenous people, the Crown-Indigenous relationship is also one that's faced strain and unfulfilled promises over the years.

On Canada Day last year, statues of Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria were toppled at the Manitoba Legislature in response to the discovery of what are believed to be unmarked graves at the sites of several residential schools Indigenous children were forced to attend.

A statue of Queen Elizabeth II, pictured here on the east side of the legislative grounds, was toppled on July 2, 2021, as was a Queen Victoria statue on the north side of the grounds. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC )

Residential school survivor Belinda Vandenbroeck was there that day to give a speech in reaction to the discovery. She didn't expect the statues would fall so easily.

"I was crying because I knew the history," Vandenbroeck, who attended an Anglican-run residential school in Dauphin for a decade, said in an interview Thursday.

That history includes a one-sided dynamic with the Crown taking from Indigenous people, Vandenbroeck said.

Belinda Vandenbroeck attended a residential school in Dauphin for 10 years. (CBC)

She suggested the monarch should no longer occupy a place of importance in Canada.

"I don't know that we can say that we are Canadian when really, we're still pledging allegiance to the Queen," said Vandenbroeck. "Why are we still doing that in 2022?"

Niigaan Sinclair, a professor of Indigenous studies at the University of Manitoba and the department's acting head, said the relationship between the Crown and Indigenous communities is complicated for several reasons.

"The Crown has perpetrated terrible abuses against us as a people — been a part of stealing our lands, been a part of passing horrendously racist legislation," he said. 

Niigaan Sinclair is a professor and acting head of the department of Indigenous studies at the University of Manitoba. (CBC)

"But on the other hand, the Crown harkens back to a relationship that in its infancy had a lot of promise, had a lot of opportunity between our nations and the Crown to share land, to live together."

Sinclair said that though he doesn't think the Queen did many things for Indigenous communities, she continued "a tradition of hopefulness that people had because of the many ways in which she showed generosity."

With files from Cameron MacIntosh