Wednesday, June 08, 2022

History of the Monarchy, again

Jared Milne writes from Alberta apropos of a recent post

While I respect Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth for handling her duties with dignity and class, I'm no fan of having our head of state reside in a foreign country. I'd rather we have a fully Canadian head of state, but I realize just how tall an order abolishing the monarchy would be. Constitutional requirements aside, here's a piece by Plains Cree writer Doug Cuthand on a First Nations view of their relationship with the Crown and why he doesn't think First Nations people would support abolishing it. (I vaguely recall Governor General Mary Simon saying something similar about the Inuit's relationship with the Crown too.)

A point very much worth addressing by anyone in favour of a Canadian head of state! 

(Lemme first say: I don’t follow the Star-Phoenix, but it’s striking how often Doug Cuthand columns turn up in my various media feeds.  And I can understand a First Nations inclination to diss Canada a little by asserting an indigenous right to deal with the real boss in England.)

But I also note that indigenous views on the monarchy vary. It's not hard to find indigenous commentators for whom the Crown represents nothing but colonialism. When Prince Charles dropped into the NWT recently, there was talk of reparations owed and respect to be paid. Indigenous activists tore down a statue of Queen Victoria in Winnipeg in 2021. and the Metis National Council president was among those who have spoken of the need for the Queen to apologize for residential schools, both as Queen and as head of the Anglican Church.  

Amidst this diversity of indigenous viewpoints, I was impressed to hear Murray Sinclair declare he does not agree with focussing responsibility on the Queen personally.  

Sinclair, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner, said efforts to extract an apology from the Royal Family to account for what a government did might change little and could complicate the issue.

"It would bring them unnecessarily into the area of politics and then we're getting into a whole different controversy," Sinclair said.

"It will just detract from and distract us from the very important conversation we need to have about what can we do to change the way that we are, the relationships that we have."

The Queen and her predecessors long since delegated all authority and responsibility for indigenous relations to the Canadian state. Sinclair seems clear that it is the Canadian state that First Nations must hold to account. The monarchy, that is, is largely irrelevant to this as to most other Canadian issues. We talk of "the Crown" and "the government" interchangeably, but Sinclair is aware of which one actually matters to reconciliation and to treaty implementation. 

This is a good moment to stress that all discussions of how to replace the monarchy in Canada must presume full participation from First Nations.  

The constitution requires all provinces to consent to any constitutional change involving the monarchy, and I would say the Assembly of First Nations (or other appropriate indigenous bodies) would also have to be part of that consensus for it to be credible. It would be hopeless to proceed otherwise. Same thing when we get to a selection process for a Canadian head-of-state: full indigenous participation required. Actually, having indigenous confirmation of a head of state, with ceremonials drawn from Indigenous rites, would be pretty cool for Canada.  

But we would have to make some serious progress on reconciliation and treaty implementation to get or deserve that kind of indigeneous participation and consent – so I’d say it would be a double win!

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