A top British Columbia First Nations chief has rejected an invitation to a "reconciliation ceremony" with the U.K. royals during their visit to Canada, saying he would not participate in the "public charade" that whitewashes the government's policy failures on Indigenous issues.
"Reconciliation has to be more than empty symbolic gestures," Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) said on Monday.
The ceremony would have included Prince William adding a ring to a ceremonial staff known as the Black Rod, created in 2012 to mark the queen's jubilee. The ring, engraved with eagle feathers and a canoe, is meant to symbolize reconciliation and would join three existing rings that also represent British Columbia, Canada, and the Crown. Chief Phillip was slated to hand the ring to Prince William in the ceremony, the Guardian wrote.
But during a three-day debate at the union's annual general meeting last week, chiefs representing more than half of the 203 First Nations in British Columbia concluded that it would not be appropriate to participate in the ceremony as tribes continue to grapple with issues like deepening poverty, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and inadequate child welfare, while the government continues to ignore them, Phillip explained.
"Certainly our people on the ground that are in the midst of dealing with these tragedies on a daily basis will appreciate us standing up and acknowledging their plight and not blindly participating in yet another grandiose pomp and ceremony that would create the illusion that things in our communities are progressing forward," he said.
The general meeting included "tears and gut-wrenching first-hand accounts of the tragedies in our communities," he said. "At same time we're asked to participate in a reconciliation ceremony that for all intents and purposes would suggest there is a very harmonious and robust relationship between the First Nation people and provincial and federal governments. And that's an illusion. We decided that for us it wasn't appropriate to participate in such a public charade."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned on a platform of repealing discriminatory legislation, closing the education funding gap, and addressing the poor housing conditions among tribes throughout Canada—and that still hasn't happened, Phillip continued. Meanwhile, the government has managed to push for projects opposed by Indigenous groups, like liquefied natural gas development.
Even the measures that have gone through, such as economic support for Indigenous communities, approved in the government's first budget, will not actually reach the tribes until 2019. Trudeau called it a "historic investment."
"We're sick and tired of the lofty, eloquent rhetoric on the part of Prime Minister Trudeau," Phillip said.
UBCIC secretary treasurer Judy Wilson added, "The Trudeau government and the government of B.C. cite the number of First Nation agreements, talk of the many issues that need to be addressed, make promises of better times tomorrow in the name of reconciliation—but their actions today demonstrate the opposite."
Prince William and Duchess Kate Middleton are touring British Columbia on Monday and are slated to give official recognition of the Great Bear Rainforest as part of the queen's Commonwealth Canopy.