Local Indigenous leaders reflect on Queen’s complicated legacy


Three local Aboriginal leaders reflect on Queen Elizabeth’s complex legacy after her death.

The long-reigning monarch, who was Canada’s head of state, died Thursday at the age of 96 at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

For these three, the Queen leaves behind a history of colonial abuses and treaties that need more attention, so looking forward to the reign of King Charles, they say they want a monarch who will be more personally engaged in Crown-Indigenous relations.

Sara Mainville was partially inspired to study law by the Queen.

Now a lawyer with JFK Law in Toronto, Mainville said she felt a direct connection to the Crown growing up as an Anishinābe woman in the territory of Treaty 3, the land agreement signed in 1873 by the Canadian government and the First Nations in northwestern Ontario and eastern Manitoba. .

Sara Mainville is an Anishinābe lawyer with a firm in Toronto. (DEAN KALYAN)

“This treaty is at the heart of our lives, our identity – [I grew up] knowing that I had this relationship with the Queen of England,” she said.

Mainville studied law at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., and said her work is informed by an understanding of “what should happen” in terms of Crown-Indigenous relations.

Unfortunately, she says, Elizabeth failed in that relationship.

“It’s like having a great-grandmother who’s kinda absent,” she said. “You respect the fact that she is part of the family and that she has this important position, but the relationship is not good.”

Mainville sees the British monarch as “the last resort” in this damaged treaty relationship.

The queen has remained largely apolitical throughout her reign, but Mainville says she believes reconciliation needs King Charles’ personal attention to move forward.

Royal family linked to boarding schools

At the age of seven, Bill Namagoose attended Horden Hall boarding school in Moose Factory, Ontario. The school was run by the Church of England – a Christian denomination in which the monarch is the ceremonial head.

Bill Namagoose says it’s now up to King Charles to apologize for the residential school legacy. (Submitted by Bill Namagoose.)

Namagoose, now the executive director of the Cree Nation Government, said his vision for the Crown is colored by his experience there.

A member of the Waskaganish Cree First Nation in northern Quebec, Namagoose said his emotional reaction to the Queen’s death was . For him, the royal family is closely linked to the “dispossession and marginalization” of indigenous lands and peoples.

He says he wanted to hear the Queen’s apology.

“She should have, could have. It’s also about the Crown, about the royal family as an institution,” he said.

That responsibility now rests with his successor, Namagoose said.

“Let’s create a new story”

As a mother and grandmother, Anishinābe elder Claudette Commanda said she sympathizes with the royal family.

“They are in mourning,” she said. “And we have to show that kindness.”

Claudette Commanda poses in front of the old Prince of Wales Bridge, recently renamed the Chief William Commanda Bridge in honor of her grandfather, in Ottawa on July 9, 2021. (David Richard/Radio Canada)

Commanda said the treaty relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Crown is important to preserve. She says she hopes King Charles will do more than previous monarchs to ensure the Numbered Treaties are upheld.

“Treaties are sacred,” she said. “They are so sacred, and they are held in the most revered way.”

But Commanda added that part of that relationship involves acknowledging the damage caused by colonization.

In 2019, the Anglican Church of Canada apologized for spiritual harm inflicted on indigenous peoples, but a sitting British monarch has yet to do so.

“A new relationship, or the right kind of relationship, has to be established,” Commanda said. “Rend the wrong of history, and let’s create a new history.”

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