Predating what we now know as Canada (some by centuries), these relationships often saw the sovereign and their representatives accepted as family by their Indigenous counter-parts. When residential schools, and other actions of the Canadian government, are understood as happening within what were meant to be family relationships, the enormity of the betrayal is further revealed.
As she guided the royal couple through the garden, Thom stopped at various stations along the way to gift teachings to the King and Queen around the significance of the different flowers and medicines used in its design. It was not lost on the couple that orange — symbolic of the children lost to the residential school system — was the dominant colour.
“The Prince of Wales understood the importance of the garden as a space that honours the Crown’s relationship — his relationship — with Indigenous Peoples,” recalled Thom. “It is a space meant to centre Indigenous teachings.”
In a contemporary and effective use of the convening role of the Crown, the creation of the string of gardens originated with Saskatchewan’s Lieutenant Governor Russ Mirasty and Manitoba’s former Lieutenant Governor Janice Filmon, who used the Platinum Jubilee to highlight the critical and unique Crown-Indigenous relationships that are threaded across Turtle Island.
Dedicating Saskatchewan’s vice-regal garden on the grounds of Government House, Mirasty (himself a member of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band and the first Indigenous person appointed to the province’s vice-regal role) said the gardens “recognize the sacred relationship between the Crown and Indigenous Peoples and remind us of the commitments we must continue to uphold.”
Back in Yellowknife, the significance of the future king dedicating such a space can now be fully appreciated considering what would happen in a few months. He left this country with reconciliation on his mind, and so it comes as no surprise that his first words to Canada following his accession were focused on his relationship with the land’s First Peoples.
The King is famously a devoted gardener. He knows that gardens, like relationships, are dynamic spaces that must be cultivated if they are to persevere and flourish. There is a lot of excitement that surrounds a new reign, and it is inspiring to think that among the planning for the coronation and future royal tour of Canada, the King’s mind will likely drift back to that little garden in Yellowknife and the relationships it represents.