The Prince of Wales has paid his respects to the thousands of indigenous children abused in residential schools in Canada, saying “we must find new ways to come to terms with the darker and more difficult aspects of the past”.
Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall began their three-day tour of Canada by meeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and governor general Mary Simon in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Before the couple flew to Canada they faced calls from indigenous communities for the Queen, Canada’s head of state, to formally apologise for the treatment of indigenous people in education institutions.
After a formal welcome to St John’s on Canada’s east coast, the Prince used his first speech of the tour to acknowledge but not apologise for the atrocities, saying: “As we look to our collective future, as one people sharing one planet, 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.
“It is a process that starts with listening. I have greatly appreciated the opportunity to discuss with the governor general the vital process of reconciliation in this country – not a one-off act, of course, but an ongoing commitment to healing, respect and understanding.
“I know that our visit here this week comes at an important moment – with indigenous and non-indigenous peoples across Canada committing to reflect honestly and openly on the past and to forge a new relationship for the future.”
Last year, hundreds of human remains were found in unmarked graves at former church-run schools.
From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 indigenous children were forced to attend state-funded Christian boarding schools in an effort to assimilate them into Canadian society.
Thousands of children died of disease and other causes, with many never returned to their families. The Canadian government has acknowledged the physical and sexual abuse that took place, with students beaten for speaking their native languages.
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Charles went on to say that during their three-day Platinum Jubilee tour, which will see the couple travel to Ottawa and Yellowknife, the capital city of the Northwest Territories, “my wife and I look forward to listening to you and learning about the future you are working to build”.
He added: “As so often in the history of this country and her people, Canadians have embarked on a journey that demands commitment and courage.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby recently visited Canada and apologised for the “terrible crime” of the Anglican Church’s involvement in Canada’s residential schools, and for the Church of England’s “grievous sins” against the indigenous peoples of Canada.
Pope Francis plans to visit Canada this summer to apologise for the abuse suffered by indigenous people at the hands of the Catholic Church.