As an Algonquin spiritual advisor, Albert Dumont is used to thinking deeply about what it means when someone dies – but as he prepares to pay his respects to Queen Elizabeth at the Ottawa memorial on Monday, he is thinking to more complicated emotions than usual.
“It’s been difficult because the story hasn’t been pretty,” he told CTV National News.
On the one hand, Queen Elizabeth II is a human being and he feels the pain of those who mourn his loss, he said.
And yet, in this pain, the bigger picture of the monarchy’s murderous reach cannot be forgotten.
“It made me reflect on the past history with the monarchy,” he said. “Just to give you an example, John A Macdonald – I call him John A ‘kill the Indian in the child’ Macdonald – was knighted by the monarchy, and I can never understand that.”
Macdonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada, authorized the establishment of residential schools with the express intention of suppressing Indigenous culture, language and identity. Thousands of children suffered horrific physical and sexual abuse in these schools, and thousands more never made it out alive.
“Anyone who has anything to do with the deaths of thousands of children, to me, looks more like a monster than anything,” Dumont said.
Since the death of Queen Elizabeth II 10 days ago, many Indigenous peoples in Canada and others affected by the monarchy’s colonization legacy have been sorting through these complex feelings.
On Monday, Dumont will put some of them into words.
A national memorial service in honor of Queen Elizabeth II will be held at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa beginning at 1 p.m. after a memorial parade through downtown.
During the ceremony, numerous speakers, musicians and performers will take the stage to honor and commemorate the late monarch.
Dumont, who is also Ottawa’s English Poet Laureate, is one of those to pay tribute, a task he ponders intensely.
“The death of a loved one is hard for any family to bear, isn’t it? Someone who is dearly loved and all of a sudden they are gone. I have so a heart for people when they lose that special someone,” he said. “So my tribute is about that loss.”
He said his tribute will recognize that because of the Queen’s position, her death impacts a wider group of people than just her direct family, with memorial services spanning entire countries.
“I mention it in the tribute to bring them comfort,” he said, referring to those affected by the Queen’s death. “Because that’s just the job I’m tied to as a spiritual advisor.
“But I also felt I had to talk about the horrors of past monarchies, past monarchs and the brutality that was involved. I tried to do it in an eloquent way and in a way that won’t really be frowned upon by people who love the Queen, because nobody’s perfect.
The death of a powerful figure like the Queen provokes mixed reactions, even from Dumont himself – he noted that when it came to the Queen’s actual personality, “it was hard not to like her , because she was sweet.
“She was cute. You know, she was sweet and kind. She really connected with the grassroots people,” Dumont said.
He felt that she seemed as at peace around the average person as she did around dignitaries and prime ministers.
“One of my sisters was a big, big fan of the Queen,” he added. “Every time the Queen came to Canada and sat in Ottawa, my sister made time to go see her, just to be in the crowd. She would arrive early to be on the front line and perhaps say hello to the Queen.
Dumont himself never attempted to meet the queen during one of her visits.
When he learned that she had passed away earlier this month, he immediately started thinking about how to write his tribute.
“I’ve been to the forest, I’ve been to the lake, I’ve even gone to pick wild blackberries, because for me it’s time to think deeply for me,” he said. “And good things have happened and I think every time you read the tribute or hear the tribute, I think you’re going to like it. I know I do. And I’m pretty sure Canadians who love the queen will love her too.
Death is not the end for him, he explained, describing how he thinks the contradictions in the Queen’s legacy could now be resolved.
“As a spiritual advisor, I know that no one escapes justice,” he said. “The wrongs of the past will catch up with you in the spiritual place. I devote a small paragraph to this in my tribute, and my hope that the queen will sit at a council fire and renounce the horrors of past monarchs in the spiritual realm.
“The physical heart stops beating here, but there is another heart that starts beating in the spiritual place that is eternal.”
As for the monarchy facing crimes of the past in the present day, he doesn’t know if an apology to the Indigenous peoples of Canada will ever come from King Charles III, but he’s hopeful.
“It should (be) normal and natural for anyone who has hurt someone else to apologize one day, to be able to say, I’m so sorry for hurting you,” he said.
He noted that Indigenous peoples had to seek apologies from the Catholic Church for decades, including meeting with former popes, before Pope Francis finally came to Canada this summer to apologize on Canadian soil.