People & Culture

Great expectations: King Charles III and his commitment to Indigenous Peoples

King Charles III has shown that he is prepared to listen to — and learn from — Indigenous Peoples

  • Published Apr 27, 2023
  • Updated May 05
  • 624 words
  • 3 minutes
[ Disponible en français ]
Prince Charles participates in a Cree naming ceremony with Elder Gordon Oakes (left) and Chief Perry Bellegarde in April 2001. The Cree name that was bestowed upon the King translates as “the sun watches over him in a good way.” (Photo: CP Photo/Adrian Wyld)
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My elders have taught me that the Cree way is to lift up our leaders. So that they know we have high expectations of them. So that they know they will always be supported in doing the right thing.

Today, I want to recognize and commend His Majesty King Charles III.

I first met the future king in 2001 when he visited Saskatchewan during the year marking the 125th anniversary of Treaty 6 with the Crown. Since then, I have had several occasions to meet and talk with him in his role as the representative of the Crown and as one of the longtime, leading advocates for the environment and sustainable development. For the last four years, I have had the honour to be an advisor on the development of King Charles’s Sustainable Markets Initiative. 

For the First Nations people of the Prairies, the treaties we entered into with the Crown are sacred and enduring covenants. We entered the treaty relationship through ceremony witnessed by Grandfather Sun and all of our Grandmother and Grandfather spirit beings. As the treaty itself stated, the relationship of partnership, mutual respect and reciprocity was meant to be honoured as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow and the grass grows.

While the Crown in right of Canada now holds the legal responsibility for honouring, implementing and enforcing the treaty provisions, for First Nations treaty signatories, the initial treaty relationship will always remain with the Crown in right of Great Britain. We have expectations of whoever wears the Crown.

In 2023, honouring the treaty relationship means many things.

Valerie Bellegarde, Chief Perry Bellegarde and Prince Charles at the headquarters of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society during a three- day royal tour of Canada in 2022 as part of the celebrations of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. (Photo: Fred Cattroll)
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Respecting the contributions that Indigenous Peoples have made and continue to make to culture, science, the economy and the environment means finding appropriate ways to incorporate our knowledge systems into the urgent global response to the climate crisis. Respecting our inherent, unsurrendered right to self-determination means ensuring a place for Indigenous Peoples in every forum where vital decisions are being made about our common future. Honouring our unique cultures and traditions means putting a priority on protecting and preserving our lands and waters — under our control.

His Majesty King Charles III has shown that he is prepared to listen to and learn from Indigenous Peoples. His Sustainable Markets Initiative brings together government, industry and technical experts to promote common solutions to the interconnected crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and global poverty. To his credit, His Majesty has made Indigenous knowledge systems and Indigenous rights a keystone of his leadership in this dialogue. I recognize him for that.

His Majesty carries a great many titles and honours. For me, the one that stands out is the traditional Cree name that the late Gordon Oakes, an Elder, Chief and Sun Dance leader bestowed upon the future King of Canada and head of the Commonwealth in 2001 when he was the Prince of Wales. The name is Kīsikāwipīsimwa miyo ōhcikanawāpamik, The Sun Watches Over Him in a Good Way.

The name echoes the language of the numbered treaties. The name also invokes one of our most important teachings. In the Cree worldview, Grandfather Sun watches over all of us, the two-legged ones, the four-legged ones, and the ones that crawl and the ones that fly. We are all related, and we all depend on each other.

The name is fitting. It is a good name for the man who is our treaty partner. And it is a good name for this global leader who, through his words and actions, has embraced an Indigenous worldview of our relationship and responsibilities to each other and the world around us.

Like many other First Nations leaders and citizens, I have high expectations for the new king. I lift him up.


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