Long Live the Reckoning: an Indigenous-informed lens on the passing of the Queen

Across the country, reactions are pouring in over the passing of Queen Elizabeth 2nd. 

It has us thinking about grace, and goodness. 

We send the Queen’s family our condolences. But: the office itself was part of a colonial tradition responsible for cultural genocide around the world. Institutions like the monarchy are designed to dazzle people with the manners and comportment of people who are tasked with upholding systems built on inequity. 

Our hearts go out to Indigenous communities whose many losses are being overlooked as the world celebrates the legacy of Queen Elizabeth. We call on Canada to honour that legacy by upholding the spirit of the Royal Proclamation, which 250 years ago made it clear that Indigenous people hold title to their lands, and that those under treaty are entitled to the Crown’s ‘protection’. To us, in modern times, that means respecting Aboriginal title to traditional territories, and working to repair the damage done by racist institutions and laws. 

So what about goodness, then? What’s good is when systems that have long been responsible for oppression begin to reform themselves. We’ve seen glimmers of a shift through the Queen’s lifetime, notably when — after having been snubbed by the first Prime Minister Trudeau — a delegation of Indigenous leaders petitioned her to press for inclusion of Indigenous rights in the repatriated Constitution in 1980. Those negotiations, and the outcome — which are the game-changing Section 35 rights that have led the way to victory after victory for Indigenous Nations in Canada’s courts — happened quietly, outside of any diamond-encrusted royal visit.

Make no mistake: The Queen’s successor will be pulling on a mantle heavy with untended sorrows.  The royal family has issued no apology for residential schools, and made no reparation for loss of lands, livelihood, and language. Now, as we look to a new monarch ascending the throne (oh how medieval), we are not interested in the jubilees and gracious ceremony but rather are listening for the quiet goodness of contrition, and restitution. 

As the Queen had a hand, for a very long time, in shaping what Canada is today, so should her successor take an active role in shaping what we could become. 

In the words of Hannah Arendt: “Justice… requires sorrow rather than anger, and it prescribes the most careful abstention from all the nice pleasures of putting oneself in the limelight.” 

The Queen is dead: the King’s journey of repair begins today.

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