Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, began a three-day Canadian tour Tuesday in St. John’s, N.L., where the prince shared his views on reconciliation with Indigenous people before the couple took part in an emotional healing ceremony.
In a speech delivered in the foyer of the provincial legislature, the prince said the land that became Canada has been cared for by Indigenous people — First Nations, Métis and Inuit — for thousands of years.
"We must find new ways to come to terms with the darker and more difficult aspects of the past, acknowledging, reconciling and striving to do better," he said. "It is a process that starts with listening."
Charles said he had spoken with Gov. Gen. Mary Simon about the "vital process" of reconciliation.
"(It's) not a one-off act, of course, but an ongoing commitment to healing, respect and understanding," he said. "I know that our visit this week comes at an important moment with Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples across Canada, committing to reflect honestly and openly on the past."
Simon welcomed Charles and Camilla to Canada in Inuktitut. She asked them to listen to the Indigenous groups they will meet in Canada and to learn their stories.
"I encourage you to learn the truth of our history — the good and the bad," she said. "In this way, we will promote healing, understanding and respect."
At the same event, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted that the brief tour is also in celebration of a special anniversary for the Queen.
"This year, for the first time, Canadians are able to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of our sovereign," he said. "As we do, it strikes me that throughout Her Majesty's over-70-year reign, Canada has come into its own."
Earlier in the day, Trudeau avoided answering when asked if he thinks the Queen should apologize for the legacy of residential schools.
"Reconciliation has been a fundamental priority for this government ever since we got elected, and there are many, many things that we all have to work on together," he told reporters.
"But we know it's not just about government and Indigenous people. It's about everyone doing their part, and that's certainly a reflection that everyone's going to be having."
The prince and the duchess were greeted by partly cloudy skies as they arrived in St. John’s aboard a Canadian government jet.
At the legislature, the couple were met by an honour guard and dignitaries before they shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with people in the crowd. Braving a cold wind on the front steps of the building, about 100 schoolchildren waved small Canadian and provincial flags.
Grade 6 student Anna Jeans said she was thrilled at the possibility she might get a high-five from Charles or Camilla. "I'm very excited," she said, bouncing on her toes. "It's a big opportunity for me."
Nearby, Tara Kelly said she's long been a fan of the Royal Family. "It's a fantasy," she said.
Inside the Confederation Building’s purple-lit foyer, the prince and the duchess looked on as Innu elder Elizabeth Penashue offered a blessing and Inuk soprano Deantha Edmunds sang "Sons of Labrador." The event began with a land acknowledgment honouring the province’s five Indigenous groups as well as the Beothuk people, who were among the first inhabitants of Newfoundland, their history stretching back 9,000 years.
Charles and Camilla then moved on to Government House, the official residence of Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote. They listened to speeches and musical performances in the Heart Garden, which was built to honour Indigenous children who attended the province's residential schools, four of which were in Labrador.
Foote said everyone has a responsibility to advance reconciliation. "It is about honouring memories and planting dreams," she said. With the discovery in recent years of many unmarked graves at the sites of several former residential schools in Canada, "the horrors experienced" became obvious, she said.
A monument in the garden features a large heart carved in the mineral labradorite. The artwork was created by Edmund Saunders, brother of Loretta Saunders, an Inuk woman from Labrador who was murdered in Nova Scotia in February 2014. At the time, Saunders was a university student studying the history of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Todd Russell, president of the NunatuKavut Community Council, paid tribute to the Indigenous children who never returned from residential schools in the province.
"We acknowledge the tremendous hurt and pain, and the great wrongs that took place," he said. "We take time today to reflect on what happened and why it happened. (We) make commitments to ensure that those tragic experience are never repeated."
Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron has said she intends to make a request for an apology to the prince and duchess during a reception Wednesday at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.
Caron has said residential school survivors have told her an apology from the Queen is important as she is Canada's head of state and the leader of the Anglican Church. "The royals have a moral responsibility to participate and contribute and advance reconciliation," Caron said in Ottawa on Monday.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis apologized for the Catholic Church's role in residential schools when Indigenous leaders and residential school survivors visited the Vatican. He will travel to Canada to deliver the apology this summer.
Before leaving St. John's, the prince and duchess travelled to nearby Quidi Vidi, a former fishing village at the east end of the historic port city, where they were greeted in the sunshine by about 100 people. The couple visited an artists studio and a craft brewery, where they drew cheers as they tried their hand at pulling pints.
Charles and Camilla then flew to Ottawa, where they will spend all day Wednesday. Their tour will also take them to the Northwest Territories.
By Sarah Smellie and Morgan Lowrie in St. John's
— With files from Michael MacDonald in Halifax and Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg