B.C. was full of royal revelry over the weekend as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge kicked off a weeklong visit to Canada’s west coast.
On Sunday, Prince William and Princess Kate joined Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Vancouver where they engaged with Canadian youth including Ucluelet local Hjalmer Wenstob.
Wenstob, a member of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation who served as national co-chair for the Assembly of First Nation’s youth council and still serves as the council’s B.C. Representative, was invited to be one of three panelists during a Sunday 150 and Me event and the invitation included a post-panel reception with Trudeau and the Duke and Duchess.
Wenstob told the Westerly News prior to the event that he was excited when he received the invitation, but nearly took himself off the guest list after receiving a list of rules he would have to follow.
“One of them is you have to bow to the royal family. Well, nope. I’m not bowing to the royal family,” he said.
“As First Nations from the West Coast of Canada, the Crown has not had an exactly positive impact on our history: endorsing the residential school, bringing famine, bringing small pox, bringing a code of ethics that are really, of course, racist historically to the West Coast.
“I’m still honoured to meet them but I’m sure not going to bow to them…I’m not going to go and take away my own First Nation right and my own code of ethics that we have as First Nations people to bow to the Crown.”
Wenstob said he voiced his concern to the event’s organizers and was told he could participate without bowing. He joined Paralympic gold medalist Aurelle Rivard and Leen Al Zalbak, the co-founder of Jusoor, an organization that works with Syrian youth, for a panel discussion aimed at motivating and inspiring Canadian youth attending the 150 and Me event, hosted by Experiences Canada in an effort to motivate youth to get involved in shaping their country’s future.
The panelists were asked to speak to what they believe are the greatest challenges or opportunities facing Canadian youth and Wenstob said he planned to speak to respect, or the lack of it, in today’s culture.
“The biggest thing we all want is respect and the biggest thing we all deserve, as individuals in Canada, is respect and the biggest thing that’s missing a lot of the time is that same thing: respect,” he said.
“It’s not about the tokenism of First Nation or non First Nation or anything except for we need to come back to a place of respect for each other. A place where we are all equal…That goes all ways. It’s not just one way to the other. All people need to have that respect again.”
He suggested Canada is currently “unbalanced” and that there’s a separation between all people. He added more discussion and education needs to happen around the history and future of respecting First Nations.
“We went through some really big things. We can talk about the residential schools, we can talk about education, we can talk about healthcare, we can talk about voting rights and The Potlatch Ban; there was a lot of things that Canada did wrong and there was a big disconnect of respect,” he said.
“I don’t think people have as much disrespect as they did in the past, but I think there’s a lot of education that needs to be done to understand each other again because, in the end, we’re all people. We all need to eat and sleep. We all have love in our hearts for our families. We all have the same things that make us who we are so we need to understand that again.”
He hoped the post-panel conversation with Trudeau and the royal couple would involve discussion topics touched on during the day’s youth forum.
“We will be hopefully having a little bit of a conversation about some history and also moving forward because that’s really the biggest thing,” he said. “We have to remember and we have to look back. We cannot forget the things of the past. But, we do have to remember we are moving forward right now as well.”
He also hoped to leave Prime Minister Trudeau with the same message of respect he planned to deliver to the forum’s youth but feared the conversation might be outweighed by publicity.
“It’s interesting because all he really thinks that we want is a selfie, which I don’t. I really don’t want a selfie with him…I think the opportunities are more there for having conversation. That’s whats important and I’ve never really been able to have that with the Prime Minister,” Wenstob said.
“I doubt I will have it on Sunday either, because it does come down to a bit of a public presence; doing the photographs and doing the great smile for the selfie-stick. Im not looking for that.”
The Westerly reached out to Wenstob after the event but did not immediately hear back on Monday.