N.W.T. government co-hosts 'diamond experience' for Belgian king and queen

Tlicho drummers and Indigenous representative from the Northwest Territories were at a meet and greet with Belgium's king and queen Tuesday in Ottawa.

'They also were very excited to … be greeted by Aboriginal people of the North,' said Chief Clifford Daniels

The government of the Northwest Territories sent representatives, Indigenous leaders and Tlicho drummers to meet the king and queen of Belgium in Ottawa. It was part of a diamond expo, co-hosted by the territorial government and the Antwerp World Diamond Centre. (Antwerp World Diamond Centre)

The government of the Northwest Territories partnered with the Antwerp World Diamond Centre in co-hosting a 30-minute "diamond experience" for Belgium's king and queen Tuesday.

The diamond expo, primarily sponsored by the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, was an invitation-only event at Ottawa's Canadian Museum of Nature from 4:30 to 5:00 p.m.

The goal was to promote and profile the Northwest Territories as one of the leading diamond-producing regions in the world, with the royals as the primary audience, according to Pamela Strand, N.W.T.'s assistant deputy minister of mineral and petroleum resources.

"It really stems from the importance of the bilateral trade relationship between Belgium and the the Northwest Territories," said Strand, adding that a majority of the territory's diamonds travel through Antwerp, Belgium, at least once in their life cycle.

King Philippe and Queen Mathilde spent about five minutes at each of the four stations looking at diamond mining in the territory, said Strand.

The N.W.T. government spent about $20,000 in travel costs for freight, staff and Indigenous representatives, according to a department spokesperson.

'The 1st time I got to meet royalty': chief

The royals also met Indigenous representatives who talked about sustainable use of natural resources, and watched Tlicho drummers perform.

Chiefs Clifford Daniels, Charlie Football, Ernest Betsina, Métis Nation President Garry Bailey and eight other indigenous representatives attended the expo, alongside staff from the territory's Department of Industry, Tourism and Infrastructure.

"It was interesting — the first time I got to meet royalty," said Chief Daniels of Behchoko, N.W.T.

"They also were very excited to … be greeted by Aboriginal people of the North."

Daniels said the king and queen were curious about life in the North, how Indigenous people work with the diamond industries, and asked questions about the Tlicho drums and songs.

From left to right: Chief Clifford Daniels from Behchoko, The King and Queen of Belgium, Chief Charlie Football, drummers William Mantla, Robin Laboline, Archie Zo. (Submitted by Grace Mackenzie)

Daniels said that workers from his community have an indirect, but important connection to Belgium.

"We back at home are just involved in the mining part of it … But those opportunities are there because you have people along the way that do a lot [like the Belgians]," said Daniels.

"If we look at the whole thing — their hard work ... that kind of spins off for us too."

Robin Laboline, a Tlicho drummer, said it was the best experience he's had and it was an honour to show the king and queen Tlicho culture and drumming. 

The Belgian king and queen will be in Toronto Wednesday, and are scheduled to travel back home Saturday after visiting Montreal.

With files from John Last, Lawrence Nayally