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Commonwealth indigenous leaders demand UK king's apology for disastrous colonization

UK's King Charles III

Commonwealth Indigenous leaders have demanded formal apologies from Britain's King Charles III for "centuries of racism" and the "legacy of genocide" perpetrated by the British Crown.

Indigenous representatives from 12 Commonwealth nations called on the 74-year-old British monarch to start a process toward "a formal apology and for a process of reparatory justice to commence" in a letter sent to him just three days prior to his luxurious coronation celebration in London despite the country's record cost-of-living crisis.

The signatories of the letter, which could sour the build-up to this weekend’s coronation, also called for financial reparations by redistributing the wealth of the British crown and the return of stolen cultural treasures and human remains.

The letter -- titled "apology, reparation, and repatriation of artifacts and remains" -- has been signed by representatives of Antigua and Barbuda, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Australia, the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

In Australia, Indigenous people were massacred by British colonizers and driven off their lands, as well as several Caribbean nations once plundered for slaves.

"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 colonization of the Indigenous and enslaved peoples," the letter read.

The signatories, who said they had banded together to help their people "recover from centuries of racism, oppression, colonialism and slavery", noted that King Charles III had told the Commonwealth heads of government meeting back in June 2022 that acknowledging wrongs of the past was a "conversation whose time has come.” The letter asks that the king “immediately start the conversation about slavery’s enduring impact."

They also asked the British monarch for an immediate commitment to discussions about reparations for “the oppression of our peoples, plundering of our resources, denigration of our culture and to redistribute the wealth that underpins the crown back to the peoples from whom it was stolen."

The indigenous leaders further demanded from King Charles III to immediately commit to repatriating human remains in British museums and institutions, and the return of cultural treasures and artifacts.

The taking of such artifacts came through “hundreds of years of genocide, enslavement, discrimination, massacre, and racial discrimination by the authorities empowered by the protection of the British crown," the letter underlined.

Separately, Nova Peris, an Aboriginal athlete, former Australian Labor party senator and Olympian and one of the signatories, said that it was time to "acknowledge the horrific and enduring impacts" of colonization and the "legacy of genocide" felt by many Indigenous populations.

"It's vital for us to discuss and educate people on the truth behind colonization, during the week of the coronation," added the former politician, who is a staunch critic of Australia's ties to the royal family.

At its height about a century ago, Britain was the largest colonial power with its monarchy holding sway over 412 million people, or nearly one-fourth of the world population, in different corners of the globe from South Asia to Africa. 

After ruling for seven decades, Queen Elizabeth II died in September last year at the age of 96, with people across the world seeing her as a symbol of an institution that thrived through violence, oppression, and theft.

Prince Charles succeeded to the throne immediately on the death of his mother and formally became the new monarch at an Accession Council.

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