First Nations leaders in Manitoba reflect on legacy of Queen Elizabeth II

Condolences continue to pour in from across Manitoba following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, including from Indigenous leaders.

The historic relationship between First Nations and the Crown is one seen as sacred but also complicated.

Leaders in Indigenous communities know there are many mixed feelings about the Queen and the monarchy, as demonstrated by the toppling of two queen statues on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislative Building last summer during a public demonstration, including one of Queen Elizabeth II.

But when it comes to the Queen herself, she’s being remembered and honoured for the way she served. 

Surrounded by cameras, Queen Elizabeth II greeted a Manitoba chief on her final visit to the province in July 2010, symbolic of the historic relationship between the Crown and Indigenous people.

Today’s leaders are now reflecting on her legacy.

“I find that even through turbulent times she was always the same, she was always her balanced self,” said Cindy Woodhouse, regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations.

The 96-year-old died Thursday as the longest-reigning monarch and is being remembered fondly by Woodhouse, who wore a Treaty medal in the wake of the Queen’s death.

Queen Ellizabeth II is being remembered fondly by Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse, who wore a treaty medal in the wake of the Queen’s death. (Source: CTV News Winnipeg)

“Over those many, many years what a remarkable woman to be able to reign so long,” Woodhouse said.  “She made a commitment in the beginning that she would do that and she lived that through.”

Sentiments that were echoed by Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand.

“When you look at it, it’s the way she carried herself,” said Chartrand.  “The way she carried herself in the public.”

Chief Clarence Easter of Chemawawin Cree Nation in northern Manitoba remembers gathering around the television when Queen Elizabeth II visited the province.

“What stood out to me is I think she was a people person,” Easter said. “She was always out and about, always smiling, always waving, you know those kinds of things. Always saying good words to people.”

For 70 years the Queen served as Canada’s head of state and it was the Crown which originally signed treaties with First Nations, marking the beginning of a sacred, long-standing yet complex relationship, according to Sean Carleton, an assistant professor in the Department of History and Indigenous Studies at the University of Manitoba.

“Indigenous people have also petitioned Queen Elizabeth II as the monarch to ensure that Canada fulfills its Treaty obligations,” Carleton said.  “The Queen represents that relationship.

We often think of the British empire and commonwealth and everything happening in the past but it continues as we saw this week the legacies of all those policies playing out, even in James Smith Cree Nation, the kind of negative lived experiences for Indigenous people that British imperial policy, as carried out by Canada’s, had.  So, I think there’s a lot of complicated feelings about this.”

Easter isn’t sure if the Queen could’ve had a bigger influence during her reign.

“That’s Canada’s job to do that,” Easter said. “And I think people are actually saying you know the Queen should actually step up and do that but that didn’t happen so there are mixed feelings out there.”

Woodhouse said she’s sent her condolences to the Royal Family.

She said the Queen served with distinction, wisdom and consistency in times of peace and in times of war.

First Nations leaders said they’re now looking forward to working with King Charles III as Treaty partners.

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