YELLOWKNIFE, Northwest Territories — Prince Charles ended his three-day trip to Canada on Thursday by calling on Canadians to listen to the “the truth of the lived experiences” of Indigenous people who were forced to attend residential schools designed to eradicate their cultures and where abuse, suffering and deaths were common.
“It has been deeply moving to have met survivors of residential schools who, with such courage, have shared their experiences,” Charles said in a speech in Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories and a city with a large population of Indigenous people.
“On behalf of my wife and myself, I want to acknowledge their suffering and to say how much our hearts go out to them and their families,” Charles added.
His speech came after he had met privately in nearby Dettah, an Indigenous hamlet, with leaders of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, some of whom attended the now notorious schools.
A year ago, Canadians were shaken when ground-penetrating radar at a property surrounding a former school in British Columbia found evidence that the remains of hundreds of people, mostly children, were buried there. Similar searches at other school sites have since produced similar findings.
Charles urged Canadians to continue to reconcile with Indigenous people, a program that is one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s top priorities.
“We all have a responsibility to listen, understand and act in ways that foster relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada,” he told a crowd gathered in a downtown park, before setting off to unveil a plaque marking the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II, his mother, as head of state of not just Britain, but also Canada.
As Charles and Camilla, his wife, flew back to Britain on a Royal Canadian Air Force Airbus, it was too early to tell how his words would reverberate among Canadians. Polls have consistently shown that a majority of Canadians do not favor his succession to the throne. But that will happen automatically without an amendment to Canada’s constitution, a process so difficult that it’s seen as unlikely.
Crowds have been modest to respectable throughout the visit, which also included stops in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Ottawa, the capital. But none of Charles’s stops attracted the numbers of Canadians lured by his sons on their official visits to Canada, nor did they come close to the numbers produced when he toured Canada with his first wife, Diana.
The final day of Charles’s tour of Canada was marked by drumming, dancing and Indigenous games.
Charles was greeted with a solemn traditional fire ceremony beneath an open tepee frame when he arrived at an assembly hall of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.
He entered the hall’s circular community room, where a group of Indigenous men played Dene hand games, in which two teams use ritualistic movements to try to hide a small token from each other while drummers egged on the action.
While at the Dene community, Charles held the private meeting with several Indigenous leaders, which went on for about twice as long as its scheduled 20 minutes. Officials offered no details about the discussion, which occurred as Camilla conducted a private visit to the community’s small elementary school.
After the meeting, Charles joined a large number of residents in a round dance held in a community room, accompanied by eight Indigenous drummers. After one and a half revolutions of the hall, Charles exited, smiling as he waved a small Yellowknives flag he had received from an Indigenous woman.