September 26, 2022

The Queen's death highlights the wrongdoing of the indigenous people

The Queen’s death highlights the wrongdoing of the indigenous people

Lydia Thorpe, Australian Indigenous Member of Parliament, raises her fist during the Senate swearing-in ceremony at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, August 1, 2022. AAP Image/Lukas Coch via REUTERS

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SYDNEY/TORONTO (Reuters) – When newly elected Australian Member of Parliament Lydia Thorpe was sworn in to office last month, she raised her fist over her head in protest, calling Queen Elizabeth II a “colonial queen”.

“It was like kneeling for the killer,” the Greens senator told Reuters this week. “I had to swear allegiance to a colonial power that did so much harm to our people.”

Queen Elizabeth’s death prompted First Nations peoples from Canada to Australia and former colonies in the Caribbean to speak out about their pain and marginalization, as well as renewed calls for the monarchy to be removed from the head of state in some countries.

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King Charles’ accession comes amid a surge in anti-colonialism fueled by a growing awareness of historical atrocities and a greater recognition of Aboriginal culture and knowledge.

“There is a growing public awareness of injustice around the world, what is being done in the name of one’s nation to exploit indigenous peoples,” said Feldon Coburn, Professor of Indigenous Anishinaabe at the University of Ottawa, Canada.

“Roughly with Queen Elizabeth’s reign, since the 1950s, you also see the emergence of resistance movements.”

Calls are growing in some Caribbean nations for reparations payments and apologies for slavery, while Indigenous Canadian leaders want the monarchy to act on a wide range of historical grievances.

Australia is on track to give Aboriginal people an official voice in Aboriginal affairs in Parliament, but Thorpe has opposed the government’s decision to hold a day of mourning for the Queen with historic neglect of Aboriginal Australians.

“[It] She is just another nail in the coffin in terms of how we feel and how we are treated as First Nations people.

Changing demographics in the Commonwealth of Nations, and accusations of racism in the royal family after Prince Harry and Meghan’s exit, have led to more questions about the need for a distant monarch as head of state. Read more

Republican debate

Barbados’ decision to relinquish the Queen as head of state in November 2021 was seen as a boost to the Republican cause and resonated in other Caribbean nations such as Jamaica and the Bahamas. Read more

Polls in Australia, New Zealand and Canada have indicated a growing view that relations with the monarchy should be terminated with Elizabeth’s death, although this is unlikely any time soon in countries such as Canada. Read more

In New Zealand, indigenous Maori account for about 17% of the country’s population of 5 million. They are well represented in Parliament, Maori has been made an official language and British colonial history is taught in public schools.

But Maori are overrepresented in prisons and state care, and the community remains the poorest in the country.

“If we can’t address the negativity and the effects of colonialism now, when? Should we wait for Prince William, or Prince William’s children?” asked the Maori Party, co-leader Debi Ngariwa Packer, who supports the abolition of the monarchy and the president of New Zealand.

“No one who takes this role, king or queen, princess or prince, is unaware of the damage colonialism has done to us as indigenous peoples,” she said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she expects New Zealand to eventually become a republic, but certainly not soon. Read more

Australian centre-left Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who explicitly favors a republic, has tasked a minister with making this happen. But any change will require a referendum and is not expected unless the government wins a second term.

Albanese said now is not the time to discuss the matter, but noted in a radio interview this week that the automatic ascension of King Charles was an opportunity to “reflect on the system that we have over a period of time.”

In Canada, polls show that about half of people believe the country should end ties with the monarchy with the death of Queen Elizabeth. Indigenous peoples represent less than 5% of Canada’s population of about 38 million and experience higher levels of poverty, unemployment, and lower life expectancy than other Canadians.

But experts say removing the monarchy from the Canadian constitution would be difficult.

Message to the king

Indigenous leaders in Canada who spoke with Reuters were less interested in severing ties with the monarchy than in the commitments they made hundreds of years ago.

When King Charles now visited Canada earlier this year, First Nations National President Roseanne Archibald asked him to personally apologize for the monarchy’s role in colonialism. Archibald repeated that call after the queen’s death.

Anishinaabe’s lawyer, Sarah Mainville, said she did not want the monarchy to be abolished in Canada, saying the king “has a very special and important place in reconciliation”.

British Columbia’s Kukpi7 (chairman) Jody Wilson said she hoped the new king would act on things his mother did not – abandoning the “discovery doctrine” that justified the colonization and dispossession of indigenous people, apologizing for the misuse of residential schools, and recognizing the original artifacts in the British language. Hands and call for action on climate change.

“Perhaps King Charles can step forward … to correct those historical errors that have affected Aboriginal peoples globally,” she said.

“He has the eyes of the world now. What tone will he send in his reign as king?”

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(Additional reporting by Praveen Menon in Sydney and Anna Mahler Baberni in Toronto); Additional reporting by Gil Gralow; Editing by Richard Boleyn

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