Aboriginal leaders press Prince Charles on treaty issues

Derek Nepinak, head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, says he sees Prince Charles as an ally and wants a stronger commitment that the Crown will protect First Nations interests.
Some of the approximately 30 Idle No More protesters who waited for Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, outside the Manitoba Legislature on Wednesday evening. (Ryan Hicks/CBC)

Edna Nabess put the final hand-stitches on moccasins that she hopes Prince Charles and Camilla will take home following their tour of Winnipeg on Wednesday.

Edna Nabess put the final hand-stitches on moccasins that will be presented to Prince Charles and Camilla — a size 9 for him and a size 10 for her. (Karen Pauls/CBC)
"I chose these colours because they're so vibrant and they remind me of our culture,” said Nabess, who determined that Charles was a size 9 and Camilla was a size 10.

“We were taught when visitors come, to give our very best. And this is my very best.”

During the royal couple's 27-hour stop in the Manitoba capital, they met with aboriginal leaders who pressed the prince on treaty and environmental issues.

Among those who met with Charles was Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, who called for a stronger commitment that the Crown will protect First Nations interests.

"I would have to look at him as an ally, recognizing that we came together in a treaty-based relationship with the Crown, and that's who represents it here, you know, as he makes his way through his Canadian visit," Nepinak said.

The grand chief said he spoke with Charles about the treaties, and the prince asked about the controversy surrounding the federal government's proposed First Nations education act.

Longtime relationship

Canada's aboriginal peoples have had a special relationship with the Crown dating back to the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which has long been viewed as a bill of rights for indigenous people in this part of North America.

In 1977, Charles was honoured with a Kainai chieftainship, a ceremonial title bestowed by the Blood Tribe in southern Alberta to those who advocate for all First Nations people.

He met with aboriginal leaders in 2012 after they complained about the slow pace of treaty negotiations with the federal government.

Derek Nepinak, head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, wants a stronger commitment that the Crown will protect First Nations interests. (Karen Pauls/CBC)
"He has a great deal of sway and control and influence with the federal government through the Governor General," said Niigaan Sinclair, an assistant professor in native studies at the University of Manitoba.

But Sinclair said little has changed following the prince's previous meetings with First Nation leaders, and he would have asked Charles to live up to his promises if he had the opportunity to meet him.

"I would remind him of those things and how important those things are to First Nations currently within the country — Idle No More is being one example," he said.

About 30 demonstrators with the Idle No More movement gathered outside the Manitoba Legislature as the royal tour wound down on Wednesday evening.

Many held signs with statements like, "Honour your treaties, quit breaking your promises" and "Protect Mother Earth — she's very sick!"

Sinclair said he would like to see Charles, a known environmentalist, take a strong stand against the Alberta oilsands and pipeline projects.

With files from the CBC's Karen Pauls


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