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First Nations call on King to renounce "Discovery Doctrine"

Indigenous communities in B.C. want new monarch to play greater part in reconciliation in Canada

CBC News · Posted: Sep 10, 2022 4:00 AM PT | Last Updated: September 10

Queen Elizabeth talks with members of the Haida Nation at Sandspit, B.C., on May 11, 1971.(Bill Croke/The Canadian Press)

In light of the death of Queen Elizabeth, Indigenous organizations and communities in B.C. are hoping her successor will commit to bettering the relationship between First Nations and the Crown.

King Charles III was proclaimed Canada's new head of state on Saturday, following the death of his mother on Thursday.

The First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC), which comprises the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), B.C. Assembly of First Nations and First Nations Summit, is calling on Charles to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery as his first official act.

Originally created by the Catholic Church in 1452, the doctrine justified the stealing of land from Indigenous people. It was used by Great Britain and France to claim land in North America.

"The Doctrine of Discovery dehumanized non-Europeans while empires waged war and stole lands, resources and wealth that rightfully belonged to Indigenous peoples all over the world," the FNLC said in a statement.

"We call for this international law doctrine to be renounced by the King of England. With a change in Canada's head of state, it's time for a change in the Crown's approach to Indigenous sovereignty."

Holding the monarchy accountable

The relationship between Indigenous people and the monarchy is a complicated one. Many First Nations signed treaties with the Crown, which included pledges to share resources that the Crown later violated.

"It is important to keep that relationship alive," Diana Day, lead matriarch with Pacific Association of First Nations and a member of the Wolf Clan from the Oneida Nation, said on CBC's The Early Edition.

"It's important to hold [the monarchy] accountable, to hold them responsible and to have them take a greater part in reconciliation and truth-telling of the history of this country."

For Indigenous people, the death of Queen Elizabeth is prompting a range of emotions given their fraught relationship with the monarchy and its colonial legacy.

Queen Elizabeth, Canada's head of state and the longest-reigning British monarch, died age 96 on Sept. 8 at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

Day said it's important to recognize the Queen's death and her long years of service, but it's also critical to think about the Indigenous people in Canada who are without housing or clean water.

Following the Pope's apology for the Catholic church's role in residential schools, some called for the Queen to make a similar apology — one that never came, despite her role within the Anglican Church, which ran dozens of residential schools in Canada.

A symbolic relationship

CBC Indigenous affairs reporter Wawmeesh Hamilton says the relationship between the monarchy and Indigenous people is purely symbolic.

"There are visits, there are diplomatic gestures and there are well wishes. It's an abstract relationship that looks good, and it reads well," he said, adding that the monarchy has no say or sway in Indigenous government.

When news of the Queen's passing broke, Hamilton said Indigenous people took to social media to air their grievances with the monarchy, colonialism and residential schools.

A statue of Queen Elizabeth II is pictured in an art gallery in Vancouver, B.C. on Sept. 8. Adam Olsen, MLA for Sannich North and a member of the Tsartlip First Nation, says the monarchy has a responsibility to take part in reconciliation. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"Her family lost someone they love," he said.

"There are protocols among Indigenous communities about death. They differ, but one common denominator is respect for the grieving and the dead."

Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich North and a member of the Tsartlip First Nation, said he believes this is the time to start conversations around Canada's relationship with the monarchy and reconciliation, as they pass the crown from one generation to the next.

"We have to recognize ... that the wealth and privilege that monarchs and the business of the monarchy is accumulated on the backs of Indigenous peoples. They have a responsibility."

Queen was asked to renounce Doctrine of Discovery

Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, secretary-treasurer of the UBCIC, pointed out that the Queen had also been asked to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery but did not.

"The Queen represented a sovereign relationship with many of our nations," Kukpi7 Judy Wilson she said Thursday.

First Nations across Canada have also called for the Pope to renounce the doctrine.

Wilson said the renouncing of the doctrine is the "only way we can move forward with a true relationship."

With files from Courtney Dickson, Christina Jung and CBC Radio

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