Prince Philip’s relationship with Canada’s Indigenous peoples is memorable and complicated

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Prince Philip’s relationship with Canada’s Indigenous peoples is memorable and complicated



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Prince Philip made over 70 visits or stops in Canada between 1950 and 2013, many of which included meetings and events with First Nations leaders and people.
It was during one of these visits that the prince, who died on Friday at the age of 99, made a strong impression on Bill Erasmus.

In 1994, Erasmus was the Dene National Chief and Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). He was part of a contingent of Indigenous leaders who met Queen Elizabeth and Philip when the royal couple traveled to Yellowknife to celebrate the creation of a new Inuit land.

In a prepared speech to the Queen, Erasmus expressed his frustration that the federal government did not honor the treaties signed by the monarchy almost a century ago. He said such inaction had “tarnished and defiled” the reputation of the Crown.

But Erasmus then took part in a more private and relaxed function with the royal family, where he found himself in contact with Philip over a common interest.

“I knew he was really big on climate change and environmental issues, so I thanked him for that,” Erasmus said.

As they spoke further, Erasmus was impressed with Philip’s knowledge on the subject.

The prince criticized “the way multinationals approach the environment, the great amount of wealth and waste they generate,” and was keen to “keep the Earth pristine,” Erasmus said.

WINDSOR, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 12: Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh attends Princess Eugenie of York’s wedding to Jack Brooksbank at St George’s Chapel on October 12, 2018 in Windsor, England. (Photo by Alastair Grant – WPA Pool / Getty Images) (Alastair Grant / Getty Images)

“He praised our people for having a similar point of view, so we were successful that way,” he said.

Erasmus said he found the prince’s frankness “refreshing”.

“It was really easy to get along, really easy to talk. He encouraged you to say what you had to say, ”Erasmus said.

Arctic char for “an ordinary guy”

This easy camaraderie is also what Johnny May, a 75-year-old bush pilot from Kuujjuaq, remembers Philip.

The Duke of Edinburgh used to drive through the northern Quebec community to refuel his private plane in the late 1970s and early 1980s, where May would meet and chat with him on several occasions.

To him and to the other pilots, Philip was just “a regular guy,” May said in an interview with CBC News.

“We didn’t treat him in a special way compared to any other pilot at the airport. So I guess he enjoyed it and he seemed really relaxed around us.

May remembers once giving Philip a pair of arctic char to take home to England. A year later, Philip returned by plane and received a message for May from “missus”: “she was very fond of arctic char.”

May also said Philip had a good sense of humor and “always joked.”

Chief Eric Large of Saddle Lake First Nation in Alberta checks his video camera as the royal couple, accompanied by NWT Premier Nellie Cournoyea, attend a traditional and cultural protest in Yellowknife on August 21, 1994. (Andrew Vaughan / The Canadian Press)

History of controversial statements

However, some of Philip’s comments gave him problems, with the prince building a reputation over the years for his blunt, controversial and sometimes offensive statements. In particular, some of his comments about indigenous peoples were seen as racist and not funny.

For example, during a visit to Australia in 2002 with the Queen, Philip sadly asked a group of Indigenous people if “you always throw spears at yourself.”

In 1995 he told a Scottish driving instructor: ‘How do you keep the natives from drinking long enough to pass the test? “

Indeed, Buckingham Palace felt compelled to apologize after another blunder in 2000, when Philip, while visiting a factory in Scotland, noticed that some electrical equipment looked so rudimentary “as it must have been.” installed by an Indian ”.

“The Duke of Edinburgh regrets any offense which may have been caused by remarks he made earlier today,” the palace said. “Looking back, he admits that what was meant to be light comments was inappropriate. “

WATCH | The royal family arrived in present-day Iqaluit in 1970:

The Queen, her husband and her two eldest children landed in present-day Iqaluit for a visit to Canada’s North in 1970. 1:48

The legacy of the public service

Some Indigenous leaders have indicated that they wish not to dwell on past controversies and instead focus on Philip’s public service, as well as the role of the Royal Family in advancing Indigenous affairs in Canada.

Shawn Atleo met Philip on the way as part of official royal visits while he was AFN National Chief from 2009 to 2014. He spoke to CBC News in March, while Philip was in hospital.

“I know the principals I have worked with, whether the Queen herself, Prince Charles or other members, have always expressed their respect and support for the treaty relationship,” Atleo said.

Johnny May and his daughter Jeannie May are pictured around 1980. Jeannie says the arctic char that Prince Philip received from his father may have come from that fishing trip to Dulhut. (Courtesy of Jeannie May)

He also expressed his sympathy for the intense spotlight under which the family operates.

“I know mine, like the hearts of many people, will go to the family for all the attention they receive,” he said.

In a statement to CBC News on Friday, current AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde offered his condolences to the Royal Family and paid tribute to Philip’s legacy.

“In nearly a century of life, Prince Philip has given so much to public service and has always been an advocate for many worthy causes, especially the fitness of young people and volunteering,” he said.

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