AFN national chief calls for Queen to apologize for past wrongs

The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations said late Wednesday the Queen must apologize for the Crown’s “ongoing failure to fulfil its treaty agreements” with Indigenous peoples, and suggested there should be some “restitution” for harms perpetrated by the Canadian government in her name.

RoseAnne Archibald met with Prince Charles today at a reception in Rideau Hall following his tour of Ottawa with his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.

Archibald told reporters she brought up the subject of an apology with Charles.

“I did it respectfully and I told him this wasn’t a political request. I told him it would be something that would help people heal,” Archibald said.

“I let him know that this would be a healing path forward for us — to receive an apology. He did talk about the failures. I found him to be very empathetic.”

Archibald said the Queen needs to apologize for both the government’s conduct and that of the Anglican Church of Canada, which ran some of the residential schools that forcibly took First Nations children in the 19th and 20th centuries. The church itself already apologized in 1993. It also paid significant damages to survivors.

Former AFN national chief Perry Bellegarde says an apology from the Queen should not be a priority and that advocacy would be better directed at social issues. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The Queen is the titular head — officially the “supreme governor” — of the Church of England, which is a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion. She does not hold any official position with the Anglican Church in Canada.

Archibald said the Queen must “apologize to survivors and intergenerational trauma survivors” in her capacity as “the leader of the Anglican faith for the role the church played in institutions of assimilation and genocide in Canada.”

It is not clear if the Queen herself can actually apologize for Canadian abuses. It would be unusual for the Queen to issue that sort of statement. The Governor General, as the sovereign’s representative in Canada, usually takes the lead on all royal matters.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for residential school abuses in 2008 and initiated the compensation program that paid out more than $3.2 billion to survivors.

Also on hand at the reception was Perry Bellegarde, the former AFN chief. Bellegarde told CBC News an apology from the Queen should not be a top priority.

He said Indigenous activists should instead focus their energies on lobbying the government to tackle social issues like inadequate housing, ending boil-water advisories and the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in prisons and foster care.

“That would be more of a benefit,” Bellegarde said. “Let’s direct our energies towards that. That’s what I’d focus on — putting pressure on nation states to deal with these issues.”

In her address to the assembled dignitaries, Governor General Mary Simon said she was happy Charles and Camilla were headed to the Northwest Territories tomorrow so that they can “continue to engage with Indigenous leaders, elders and community leaders.” 

“Their stories are an integral part of our journey of reconciliation,” Simon told the royal couple.