After Queen Elizabeth's death, Indigenous leaders in N.L. reflect on her legacy

After Queen Elizabeth’s death, Indigenous people and community leaders in Newfoundland and Labrador are weighing in on her legacy and how — or if — the Monarchy plays a role in reconciliation.

After 70 years on the throne, the Queen died at 96 on Thursday

Chief Joe stands next to the Miawpukek First Nation emblem.
Miawpukek Chief Mi'sel Joe says he remembers when Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1952. He later met the Queen when she visited Newfoundland and Labrador in 1997. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

After the Queen's death on Thursday, Indigenous residents and community leaders in Newfoundland and Labrador weighed in on her legacy and how — or if — the monarchy plays a role in reconciliation.

Queen Elizabeth visited Newfoundland and Labrador three times, in 1959, 1978 and 1997. Her 1997 visit included stops in St. John's, Bonavista, North West River and Sheshiatshiu.

Miawpukek Chief Mi'sel Joe remembers when Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne. He was sitting on the beach watching his father and some other men fix a boat while they chatted about the new monarch, he said, and had no idea he would later meet her.

"That memory has sat with me all those years," he said.

Joe met Queen Elizabeth when she visited Newfoundland and Labrador in 1997, and later met her son, now King Charles when he visited St. John's in May.

Joe said he exchanged pleasantries with Charles.

"I said to him that I was born when this was a British colony, and he said, 'I hope that we treated you good back then,'" Joe said. "You know, I didn't have time to respond to that."

Reconciliation was a focus of the 2022 royal tour. In this photo taken during the stop in St. John's, Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote stands next to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and Prince Charles during a ceremony in the Heart Garden at Government House. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Indigenous reconciliation was a focus of the 2022 royal tour, with Charles acknowledging — but not apologizing for — residential schools in Canada. 

Joe said he's looking to the provincial and federal governments — not the Royal Family — to commit to truth and reconciliation.

"If there's any change [that] comes to us as Aboriginal people in this province it will come directly from the government of the day," he said.

Wally Andersen, member of the Nunatsiavut government, said Thursday was a sad day. He remembers meeting the Queen during her 1997 visit and having the opportunity to shake her hand.

Andersen was a member of the House of Assembly at the time. 

"She took a step inwards and extended her hand. I had the opportunity to shake the hand of the Queen. There's not many people in this province, I don't think, that had that opportunity," he said.

"I was blessed and that's something I'll always remember."

'Every death is painful'

Sheshatshiu Chief Eugene Hart said he'd like to see the Royal Family do more work with Indigenous communities and First Nations. As for the Queen's legacy, he didn't have a definitive answer.

"I really don't know, to be honest with you, what the legacy was there," he said.

During her time in Sheshatshiu in 1997, community leaders presented the Queen with a letter condemning colonization and its impacts.

Sheshatshiu resident Xavier Penashue said he was shocked to learn of the Queen's death. 

"Every death is painful," he said.

He also believes the Royal Family can play a role in reconciliation.

"They can start by, I guess, notifying governments to help out … Indigenous peoples," he said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Ryan Cooke and Rafsan Faruque Jugol