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William and Kate’s Yukon tour rich with visits to First Nations symbols

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, arrive at Whitehorse Airport on Sept. 27, 2016.

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Snow-capped mountains loomed in the background as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge walked off a Canadian Air Force transport plane for their first visit of Northern Canada.

The royal party arrived in Whitehorse on Tuesday evening for a 20-hour visit to the Yukon that is rich with planned visits to First Nations symbols. During the first royal visit to the territory in 15 years, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will spend time with a group working to save indigenous languages in the North, meet First Nations youth and visit a healing totem pole.

While the royal couple was snubbed by the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs earlier in the week, the grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations waited for them at the Whitehorse airport, along with hundreds of locals and a detachment of Canadian Rangers who were dressed in their red parkas and holding vintage rifles.

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Related: Where are William and Catherine? Your guide to the royal visit

Read more: How to experience the Okanagan Valley like the royal couple

The skies above Yukon's capital were grey as a light rain fell and the temperature hovered above zero as the couple touched down. Missing were their two children as Princess Charlotte and Prince George stayed in Victoria with their nanny.

Raquel de Queiroz stood outside of the Whitehorse airport gates to show support for Canada's role accepting Syrian refugees. Eight-year-old Reem Aarafat, one of the territory's youngest refugees, presented Governor-General David Johnston with flowers as he stood on the tarmac to welcome the royals.

Yanory Centeno waved royal flags her son made for William and Catherine's wedding in 2011. "I was such a fan of Diana, now I'm a fan of her son," she said.

The royal couple then took in a night of local music, dance and storytelling at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre, located near the banks of the Yukon River. The two were moving along to the music, hitting their knees with their programs.

"He said he almost got up and bust a move. Kate says he has great moves," gushed Valerie Herdes after speaking with the royals. She was part of a dance troupe that performed for the couple.

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Earlier in the day, First Nations leaders in B.C. urged the Duke and Duchess to encourage the British Columbia and federal governments to take their issues seriously. That marked the second straight day of the royal tour that aboriginal leaders expressed frustration.

Chief John Kruger of the Penticton Indian Band spoke directly to William and Catherine during an event at the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus on Tuesday, urging them to advocate for reconciliation for aboriginal peoples.

"True reconciliation involves the honour of the Crown, the federal government, provincial government and the indigenous people of this land."

Mr. Kruger was standing in for Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, who has boycotted royal events.

His members, which represents more than half of the 203 First Nations in the province, voted that he should not attend reconciliation events with the royals.

Grand Chief Ed John of the First Nation Summit filled in for Phillip at the Black Rod Ceremony in Victoria on Monday and used his time at the podium to make an even stronger plea.

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Mr. John said the status quo hasn't served indigenous peoples well as he noted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has determined there was cultural genocide against his people.

"The current Crown approaches of deny and delay cannot continue. We cannot hope that our future means more litigation or protests on the land, as we see now." He said when Canada became a country it wrongly pursued laws to proselytize indigenous people to become Christians with residential schools.

"The purpose of these schools was to kill the Indian in the child. The impacts, including indigenous language loss, have been deep and now intergenerational."

During the ceremony, Prince William added a ring of reconciliation to the Black Rod, which is used in the legislature when the Queen or her provincial representative is present. The ring is meant to represent the connection between the Crown, indigenous peoples and all British Columbians.

Mr. John said the reconciliation ring should guide future relationships between the Crown, governments and aboriginal peoples.

Marilyn Slett, Coastal First Nations president and Heiltsuk chief, said the royal visit to her B.C. community of Bella Bella on Monday represented an opportunity to continue relationship-building with the governments of Canada and B.C.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived in Kelowna, B.C., on Tuesday for a tour of the city and a chance to sample British Columbia's culinary scene.

The couple unveiled a plaque marking the 10th anniversary of the University of B.C. Okanagan campus, watched a demonstration by the women's volleyball team and met with students.

They also stopped at the Mission Hill Family Estate to view the vineyard and learn about the province's agrifood sector at the Taste of British Columbia Festival.

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About the Author
Ontario legislative reporter

Based in Toronto, Justin Giovannetti is The Globe and Mail’s Ontario legislative reporter. He previously worked out of the newspaper’s Edmonton, Toronto and B.C. bureaus. He is a graduate of Montreal’s Concordia University and has also worked for CTV in Quebec. More

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