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Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, look at a display of traditional hunting tools and clothing after arriving in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories on May 19.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

It was a different ending than the one Buckingham Palace had planned. Sometime Thursday, Prince Charles, apparently moved by his encounters with residential-school survivors, chose to can the brief remarks on climate change he’d planned to deliver before flying to home to Britain. He chose instead to mark the jubilee of his mother, the Queen, with a fairly lengthy speech on the “deeply moving” experience of speaking with survivors and their families.

“I want to acknowledge their suffering,” he said to a crowd of several hundred in Yellowknife’s Ceremonial Circle.

Canadians, “when faced with challenges, do not run from them,” he added. “We must listen to the truth of the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples. We must work to understand their pain and suffering.”

He and his wife, Camilla, were leaving with “heavy hearts,” he concluded, adding that they will be “closely following the next chapter in this great country’s history.”

“Mahsee cho,” he said – thank you in Gwich’in.

Indigenous leaders in the Northwest Territories regarded the visit Thursday of Prince Charles and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, as a perfect opportunity to gently educate the future monarch of the struggles and the sovereignty of their peoples.

With the Queen, 96, increasingly frail, some here acknowledged this was likely her son Charles’s final visit to Canada as a prince.

“We want the king – the future king, I mean – to help us settle our land claim,” said William Lines, a councillor with the Ndilo First Nation. “We want to continue to be a sovereign people. That was promised to us at treaty.”

Prince Charles and Camilla were greeted with a ceremonial fire in the Dene community of Dettah, a 45-minute drive from Yellowknife – a trip that drops to just eight minutes in winter by ice road. After feeding the roaring fire with tobacco, Charles sat down for a round table with Eddie Sangris, Chief for the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, and his brother, Fred Sangris, Ndilo Chief for the Yellowknives First Nation. The Prince’s meeting with the charismatic brothers around a drum-shaped table ran 20 minutes over schedule.

“We talked to him about our dreams,” Fred Sangris said afterwards. “About our wishes. About how Canada needs to strengthen its treaty relationships. He wanted to know more – how we’re living, whether we are comfortable, what issues we are facing.”

The visit comes just shy of the one-year anniversary of the discovery of the remains of hundreds of children on the grounds of a residential school in Kamloops. Previously, the Prince had been meant to cap the trip with a few brief remarks on the impact of climate change in Yellowknife before hopping on a plane bound for Britain. Instead, reporters were told he planned to deliver a sombre, lengthy speech on the impact of residential schools, and the need for reconciliation.

In Dettah, the royal couple joined community members in a drum circle. Several came dressed in orange – orange T-shirts, earrings, jackets and hoodies. For the day, Chief Eddie Sangris, an avid Edmonton Oilers fan – like most in this avid northern outpost of Oiler Nation – replaced his traditional Edmonton cap for a black one bearing the message “Every Child Matters” and a matching orange ribbon.

Before leaving the Dene community on the shores of Great Slave Lake, a drum dance formed around Prince Charles, who was dressed in a purple tie and a matching pocket square. After several minutes, Charles himself joined the line, dancing in step with the community. This sent the visiting British reporters into fits of giggles, but the community erupted in a cheer, a sign of their appreciation.

Aleda Edjericon said afterward how “meaningful” it was to witness him take part in their culture. “It’s emotional to see him step on this land, to have him acknowledge that we are here. This is a time for reconciliation. This is a time for a renewal in our relationship.”

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