Indigenous leaders from 12 Commonwealth countries have demanded that King Charles apologise for what they describe as centuries of “genocide and colonisation”.
“We, the undersigned, call on the British Monarch, King Charles III, on the date of his Coronation being May 6, 2023, to acknowledge the horrific impacts on and legacy of genocide and colonisation of the indigenous and enslaved peoples,” the statement reads.
The signatories said indigenous people were trying to recover from “centuries of racism, oppression, colonialism and slavery, now rightly recognised by the UN as ‘crimes against humanity’, [and that they want the UK to] immediately start the conversation about slavery’s enduring impact, [start] discussions about reparations, [and repatriate] all remains of our collective peoples”.
The statement was signed by indigenous representatives and republican groups from Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
The appeal from former British colonies around the world comes as the King prepares for his coronation in Westminster Abbey on Saturday. It also comes as Jamaica said it could hold a referendum in 2024 to become a republic, following the path of another Caribbean nation, Barbados, which became a republic in November 2021.
Marlene Malahoo Forte, Jamaica’s Minister for Legal and Constitutional Affairs, told Sky News the Caribbean nation could soon “sever ties” with the monarchy, saying that the time had come for Jamaica to be “in Jamaican hands”.
Barbados’s decision in 2022 to remove Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state shows how the monarchy’s legacy is a fragile being, something that cannot be taken for granted. King Charles III has enormous shoes to fill and he must fill them while simultaneously distancing the monarchy from its dark past in more obvious ways than ever before. The UK’s younger generation is demanding it, as are an ever-growing number of Commonwealth countries (with Belize the latest to add its name to the list threatening to remove the monarch as head of state).
Barbados is now a republic with a president as head of state, not King Charles (who remains the figurehead of 15 other countries, including the UK). At the handover ceremony in late November 2021, (the then) Prince Charles gave a short, awkward speech while attendee Rihanna was formally declared a national hero. Within the Commonwealth, Barbados’s bold decision is the first of its kind in many decades, and it was, for all intents and purposes, completely symbolic since the country has been independent of the UK for 56 years (albeit with Queen Elizabeth as its ceremonial head of state).
If King Charles does not apologise for the UK’s colonial past, or at least the monarchy’s involvement in that process, he risks alienating more Commonwealth nations. Queen Elizabeth was loved and adored for her poise and leadership by example, something that held nations close to the UK. If Charles missteps or takes on the wrong optics, both now and generally speaking, he may very well see countries drop out of the Commonwealth club altogether.