Prince Charles offers remarks about reconciliation as Canadian tour begins

Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, arrived Tuesday in St. John's, N.L., to begin a three-day Canadian tour that will largely focus on reconciliation with Indigenous people.

Under partly cloudy skies, the couple landed at St. John's International Airport aboard a Canadian government jet. They then headed by motorcade to a welcome ceremony at the provincial legislature with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Gov. Gen. Mary Simon.

The couple were met by an honour guard and various dignitaries before shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with people in the crowd. On the steps leading to the legislature, 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 -- wearing a homemade fascinator with a tall plume of green feathers -- 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.

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.

Simon welcomed Charles and Camilla to Canada in Inuktitut. She asked Charles and Camilla 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. And in this way, we will also promote reconciliation."

The prince started his speech by noting that the land that became Canada has been cared for by Indigenous people -- First Nations, Metis 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."

The prince said he had spoken with the Governor General 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."

Charles and Camilla then moved on to Government House, the official residence of Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote, the Queen's representative in the province.

Outside the residence, they will take part in a reconciliation prayer with Indigenous leaders at the Heart Garden, which was built to honour Indigenous children who attended the province's residential schools.

Earlier in the day, Trudeau said reconciliation will form part of the discussions Charles and Camilla engage in during their visit. But the prime minister 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 said. "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."

Metis 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.

Leaders from four of Newfoundland and Labrador's Indigenous groups were expected to attend the prayer ceremony at the lieutenant-governor's residence in St. John's. Elders and residential school survivors were also invited to take part in a smudging ceremony, musical performances, a land acknowledgment and a moment of silence.

Charles and Camilla will then tour Quidi Vidi, a former fishing community in the east end of St. John's.

The couple are expected to arrive in Ottawa tonight. Their tour will also take them to the Northwest Territories.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

-- With files from Michael MacDonald in Halifax and Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg