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Miles Morrisseau
ICT

The last official statement by Queen Elizabeth II was to offer condolences to the families of the 10 people who died during the horrific mass killings on the James Smith Cree Nation.

“I would like to extend my condolences to those who have lost loved ones in the attacks that occurred this past weekend in Saskatchewan,” she wrote in a letter delivered to community leaders.

“My thoughts and prayers are with those recovering from injuries, and grieving such horrific losses. I mourn with all Canadians at this tragic time.”

She would be gone the following day.

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One of the first Indigenous leaders to acknowledge the monarch’s passing was Okimaw (Chief) Wally Burns of the James Smith Cree Nation.

“Today, we found out the monarch that served Canada has passed,” Burns said at the community’s first press conference after the stabbing rampage on Sunday, Sept. 4.

“She wrote a letter to James Smith Cree Nation on behalf of the monarchy, expressing the condolences to the families, the friends, to the community and to the rest of the world.”

When Queen Elizabeth II died on Sept. 8, it was a loss to her family, the British monarchy, her subjects and admirers around the world. It was also the end of the unique relationship she had with the First Nations of Canada.

Canada remains a part of the British Commonwealth and recognizes the Queen as its own monarch. But Britain also led the colonization of North America that devastated many Indigenous nations.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signs a book of condolences at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Ontario, on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022, for the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Trudeau is expected to be among 2,000 world leaders and royalty attending the funeral on Monday, Sept. 19. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden are expected to be among the 2,000 people attending her funeral Monday at Westminster Abbey – the first state funeral held in Britain since the death of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill. She visited Canada 22 times as monarch.

The service is expected to draw royalty and heads of state from around the world, with a smaller burial to follow later Monday at Windsor Castle.

For Indigenous peoples in Canada — whether First Nations, Métis or Inuit — the Queen’s image has been burned into minds and into some hearts for generations.

Those of a certain age sang “God Save the Queen” every morning at school. Her painting hung in every hockey rink in every town and village. Her face was on the $1 bill and is now on the $1 coin and the $20 bill.

Myeengun Henry, former chief of the Chippewa of the Thames and current Knowledge Keeper at the University of Waterloo, told ICT that the Queen ruled over years of Indigenous tragedy.

“We had 70 years of the Queen, who watched some drastic things happen in Canada — the residential schools, of course, the ‘60s scoop, murdered missing women, many of these terrible events that took place. And I think what's been going on with Indigenous people, they've been holding on to this anger,” he said.

He also pointed to the Crown’s neglect of the founding documents of Canada and the United States – the treaties.

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“Our original treaties were with the Crown,” he said. “And when those treaties were created, even previous to Queen Elizabeth, it was about sharing of resources and survival in a good way in North America.”

Canada's Governor General Mary Simon leads a moment of silence in recognition of the death of Queen Elizabeth II at a presentation of the Decorations for Bravery at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Canada, on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022. Simon, Inuk, is the first Indigenous person to hold the office. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP)

The Queen, as all monarchs have been, is the symbolic head of the Anglican Church with the title of “supreme governor,” and represents much the same role as the Pope, who heads the Catholic Church. Upon the death of his mother, the newly crowned King Charles III made reference to that role.

“The role and the duties of Monarchy also remain, as does the Sovereign’s particular relationship and responsibility towards the Church of England – the Church in which my own faith is so deeply rooted,” he said. “In that faith, and the values it inspires.”

Following a meeting with the future king in March, National Chief RoseAnne Archibald of the Assembly of First Nations called on the monarchy to take responsibility for its role in the genocide of Indigenous peoples and the failure to fulfill agreements made with the Crown under treaty.

“In my moment with His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, I emphasized Truth and Reconciliation with First Nations peoples and the need for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to acknowledge and then apologize for the Crown’s ongoing failure to fulfil its Treaty agreements with its First Nations partners, as well as acknowledge and apologize to survivors and intergenerational trauma survivors as leader of the Anglican faith for the role the church played in institutions of assimilation and genocide in Canada,” Archibald said.

Upon the Queen’s death, the national chief took a conciliatory tone and acknowledged Elizabeth’s role as a female leader in a world led by men.

“Like many, Queen Elizabeth II is the only British monarch I have ever known in my lifetime,” Archibald said. “Throughout her reign, she has been an influential role model for generations of women and will be remembered for normalizing and evolving the perception of strong, female leadership. My condolences are with King Charles III and all members of the British royal family as they grieve the loss of their matriarch, Queen Elizabeth II.”

Henry believes that many Indigenous people are offering condolences or remaining silent as an expression of their own values.

“Indigenous people, when somebody passes away, we have to be honorable to all because Creator brought people here,” he said. “And I think if we live by our seven grandfather teachings, we would have that respect even though there was hardship brought on by individuals.”

He echoed Archibald’s sentiments that the Queen’s role in many Indigenous societies was acknowledged.

“I think that's where the conflict comes in,” he said. “The emotional conflict is because we, being primarily matrilineal societies where the women were in charge, and we see it with the queen. She was a female who took on a very heavy responsibility when women weren't able to do that. And I honor her for that part of it.”

Journalist/writer Dan David from Kanehsatake Mohawk territory recalled meeting the Queen as a member of the Commonwealth Fellowship in 1991.

“I remember how she greeted our group of Commonwealth Fellows coming from all over the globe,” David told ICT in an email. “She knew something about each of us as individuals and the nations we represented. In particular, I remember how kind and concerned she was with one of our group.”

“Dr. Sirajul Islam was from Bangladesh. His country was in tatters, devastated by a cyclone. The Queen spent time talking with each of us, but went back to Dr. Islam to ensure herself that his family was okay and to reassure him that the Commonwealth would do what it could to help,” he said.

“I kept looking over at them in their huddle. The Queen, like a kindly mother more than a monarch, consoling a man in turmoil.”

David was struck by the qualities most often attributed to Queen Elizabeth II.

“She reminded me so much of my own mother,” he said, “not only in the way she dressed, but how she acted, almost wrapping Dr. Islam in a protective cocoon. Mothers do that.”

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