Along with welcoming the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to the Syilx Nation’s traditional territory, Penticton Indian Band Chief Jonathan Kruger also brought reconciliation into the conversation.
“True reconciliation involves the Crown, the federal government the provincial governments and the indigenous people in this land. True power is the human spirit,” said Kruger. “Please use the power to advocate for true reconciliation and advocate for the indigenous people in this country so we can be all great and good.”
Kruger told the Royal couple that he was happy to have them as guests on their traditional territory in B.C., prior to the unveiling of a First Nations sculpture at the university.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and former Penticton Indian Band chief, was invited to take part in a ceremony with the visiting Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, but said he has no regrets about declining.
Phillip said he wasn’t completely at ease when invited to take part in the Black Rod ceremony, where Prince William was to add a “ring of reconciliation” to the a ceremonial staff used on formal occasions when the monarch or the lieutenant-governor is present in the legislature.
Phillip was invited to actively participate in the Black Rod ceremony by handing the ring of reconciliation to His Royal Highness, and then invite him to affix the ring onto the Black Rod. The materials and symbols affixed to the Rod are representative of the province and its relationship to the Crown.
Phillip, who has been advocating for his people for more than four decades, said reconciliation needs to be more than symbolic.
“I felt uneasy. I wasn’t completely swept up in it and excited,” said Phillip, who turned to the assembled chiefs at the UBCIC’s 48th annual general assembly for advice last week. A clear majority of them said he shouldn’t participate.
“When the general public sees and witness these grandiose symbolic gestures and photo pops, it clearly sends a message that things must be OK, there must be good things happening,” said Phillip, reflecting on Attawapiskat, which triggered the #idlenomore movement. “Nothing could be further than the truth. There is terrible tragic dimension to the appalling levels of poverty that represent the everyday lives of our people across our country.”
“With the deepening poverty of our communities, remembering the missing and murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the ongoing negligence of Indigenous Child Welfare policies across this country, in good conscience, I cannot participate in the Black Rod Ceremony. The suffering in our communities is too great. I apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused with our decision. We do not mean any disrespect. It is a matter of principle,” wrote Phillip, declining the invitation.
Phillip traces his activism back more than four decades to the era of the civil rights movement. He said he is still fighting for the rights of indigenous peoples.
“That is what drives me, that background, that history, that continued belief that we need to continue to push for the full implementation, for instance, of the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, the complete implementation of the Tsilhqot’in decision,” said Phillip. “Governments need to know and understand there needs to be adequate investments in aboriginal communities to a point where we can alleviate the appalling conditions of poverty that on the one hand represent a national disgrace but on the other hand, have become a very normalized condition.”
“It was a matter of principle, but at the same time, it was to convey a very pointed and strong message to Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Clark that we need to go beyond symbolic gestures and platitudes and lip service in terms of the need to contribute to genuine reconciliation measures,” said Phillip.
Phillip said there was no intention to snub the visiting royals, but at the same time is glad he didn’t participate in the Black Rod ceremony, though he acknowledges and respects the choices made by the leaders who did.
“Today I feel great. There was an enormous groundswell of support on social media for the decision of the UBCIC. We take great pride in speaking the truth and standing up for the rights of our people,” said Phillip.