It is almost too coincidental that Queen Elizabeth II passed away a few days before Canada celebrated its National Day for Truth & Reconciliation. Now as they redesign the toonie in commemoration of her, this article is written in hopes to expose the dichotomy of a government which acknowledges that the land that their institutions were built on were initially inhabited by Indigenous communities, but continues to hold the very colonial relics in place that took these lands.
Simply put, you can’t apologize to Indigenous communities for the crimes committed against them and then continue to run your government in the name of the British monarch under whose seal these atrocities were carried out. Because, are you really apologizing then?
Firstly, why do we choose to hold onto the monarchy? There aren’t any economic benefits to being a part of the Commonwealth Realm — a term for countries which acknowledge the British monarch as their figurehead. The Commonwealth is the broader term which refers to an international organization largely composed of the United Kingdom’s former colonies, even if they choose not to acknowledge the monarch as their head. The Canadian government’s website concerning Canada and the Commonwealth states that the Commonwealth is “a forum for deliberation, problem solving, consensus decision making and action on matters of importance to its membership.”
This goal can be achieved without making the monarch our official figurehead. After all, we are the second largest contributor to the Commonwealth, having spent around $11 million on the organization last year, as reported by the Government of Canada.
I believe the solution is to run a government in the name of our Indigenous communities.For a start, the constitutional figureheads of our country could be representatives from the indigenous population. So, instead of the British monarch as the nominal head of Canada you could have the ‘Chief’ or any other title that the indigenous communities of Canada settle upon as appropriate. The same should apply to other largely ceremonial positions like ‘the Lt. Governor’ and ‘Governor General’. The term ‘His/Her Majesty’ could be phased out by a new phrase that represents the claim of the indigenous population over Canada. If we had to have a monarch, shouldn’t it be an indigenous person? Or perhaps words like ‘His/Her Majesty’ could be changed to a phrase which acknowledges Canada as the land of all people, but in the language of the indigenous population, to change the starting point of Canada’s history from one based on British expeditions to one that begins with this land’s settlement by the First Nations.
We can simply have Indigenous communities vote for a leader they believe should be the constitutional head of our country and for each of the provinces and territories. Organizations like the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and Congress of Aboriginal People (CAP) represent the interests of a substantial portion of Indigenous people, and the chief of the Assembly of First Nations is elected by the representatives of its Member Nations. The procedures for elections to the post of a First Nations Chief and Councillors have also been laid down under the Indian Act and First Nations Elections Act. Hence, these elected individuals would be a representation of the will of the indigenous population of Canada and if there is any party who deserves at least a nominal claim over this wonderful country, it is Indigenous communities.
This also sits very well with our ideas of truth and reconciliation. The relative benefit is representation. How many Canadians know the National Chief of AFN, RoseAnn Archibald, as compared to Queen Elizabeth II? At the very least, this change would bring 14 more members of the Indigenous community to the fore of national politics and the public eye, replacing the Monarch, Governor General and Lt. Governors of the provinces with representatives from the indigenous community. These would be 14 people who have been selected because of their relationships to Indigenous communities and identity, making it their job to represent the interests of their community with these ceremonial powers given to them, instead of a vestige of a foreign power. It might also make the Indigenous community feel better represented, as they find their place in this diverse nation. The only additional cost is changing the names on the paperwork.
The island nation of Barbados recently stopped acknowledging the British monarch as their constitutional head. While King Charles III continues to remain the official head of 16 nations, the process of removing the King as the constitutional monarch of Canada requires unanimous approval by the Senate, the House of Commons, and the legislative assembly of each of the provinces. This is the highest standard of amending the constitution as laid down under Section 41 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
While this is an arduous task, this solution is a far more reasonable take on present day reality.The treaties signed between the Crown with the Indigenous communities many years ago would now be governed by a government structure which places their own heads at the helm, perhaps creating a little more trust in the system.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau referred to Canada as the world’s first postnational state in a 2015 interview with the New York Times, even while Canada technically continues to exist under the seal of the “UK”, and public lands are called “Crown Lands”, and the monarch’s face is printed on our money.
Is this not reminiscent of a more colonial Canada? It doesn’t take into consideration the impact that bearing allegiance to the Queen has on immigrants coming from countries which were also colonies of the British Empire. Doesn’t this solution truly bring Canada into its identity as the first postnational state while also reconciling with its indigenous people?
2023 is the perfect time for effectuating such a change. Holding on still would be holding onto the vestige of a past that Canadians are not nostalgic about.