An isolated reserve, home to around 1,300 people and accessible only by fly-in, played host to a highly unusual Royal visit last week as part of the Wessex’s tour of Canada.
The Countess of Wessex made a two-day visit to Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation (KI) last Thursday, in an attempt to rebuild bonds between the Royal Family and Canada’s aboriginal community.
The reserve is located in northern Ontario, around 370 miles north of Thunder Bay, and struggles with poor housing, unemployment, drug addiction and inadequate education facilities. The Countess travelled with other VIPs, including Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne; Lieutenant Governor-designate Elizabeth Dowdeswell; Ruth Ann Onley, wife of the lieutenant governor, David Onley and Vicki Heyman, wife of the U.S. ambassador to Canada. Sophie met with the elders in a traditional teepee, shared a community feast of freshly caught wild game and fish and was served a traditional field breakfast by members of the Canadian Rangers; a military reserve unit which is composed largely of aboriginals living in the north.
Speaking of the highly unusual visit, the Chief of the KI, Donny Morris, told The National Post:
“We are just trying to grasp it now. The last time anyone came here from the Crown was in 1929 when we signed our treaty. To have someone from the Royal Family, representing that, reliving that, I think that’s what we’re excited about — somebody actually coming here 85 years after we signed the treaty with the Crown.”
The reserve was granted such status in 1929, as part of an adhesion of the James Bay Treaty. The treaty was originally established in July 1905, between the government of Canada in the name of King Edward VII and the various First Nations in Northern Ontario.
The Countess described her short visit as ” moving, enlightening and uplifting” adding that “it is clear that many of these communities are in need of support separate from activities that are government led to allow them to prosper.”
Speaking to students and staff at Nipissing University on Friday 19th, Sophie said:
“It’s my hope that following our visit to KI there will be further opportunities which will arise where we’ve made work to replicate the good examples more widely, perhaps bringing existing organisations together to explore what more can be done not only in KI but with many other aboriginal communities.”
The Deputy Chief of the band, Darryl Sainnawap, spoke to The National Post about the Countess’s visit beforehand, saying
“I just want it to be a successful visit, a memorable one for our visitors and … to have them gain a better understanding of who we are, to help build a better future. That’s where my heart is.” “It’s about reconciliation and gaining a better understanding of each other. What better way than to have people come live in our homes, to share our strength, our challenges and our history and just teach them about who we are,” he added.
Due to accommodation restraints, many of the delegation slept in community members’ homes, although the Countess stayed in one of the queen-sized beds at the reserve’s small inn; The Sunset Lodge.
As part of their tour, The Earl of Wessex undertook separate engagements in British Columbia and Saskatchewan. Sophie’s first international tour was to Canada in 2000, a year after she married Prince Edward. She holds honorary titles with two Canadian military units, as Colonel-in-Chief of the South Alberta Light horse and the Lincoln and Welland Regiment.