William and Kate charm the Heiltsuk Nation in remote Canada rainforest


The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have forged links with a remote Canadian community and left with their arms filled with presents - including a pair of dancing vests.

In the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest William and Kate were welcomed by the Heiltsuk First Nation people and in turn the Duke praised them for helping to safeguard the natural wonder in British Columbia dubbed the "Amazon of the north".

Torrential downpours had forced the royal couple to abandon a seaplane tour of the forest but they received a rapturous welcome from the Heiltsuk residents of the island village of Bella Bella, during a ceremony staged in the "big house" or community centre.

William and Kate were visiting to mark Great Bear - the world's largest intact temperate rainforest - joining the Queen's Commonwealth Canopy network, a scheme to help preserve areas of indigenous forest in perpetuity in the Queen's name.

In a speech to commemorate the event the Duke said: "The Commonwealth has, at its heart, always been about the values that bind its people. This project, focusing on our shared natural heritage, is no different.

"The establishment of the Canopy is a loud and unambiguous statement that the citizens of all Commonwealth countries believe that nature is fundamental to the health of our societies.

"When we protect our rivers, oceans, atmospheres, or like today, our forests, we are telling our children that their future prosperity cannot be disconnected from the health of the natural world."

During William and Kate's welcoming ceremony traditional cloaks were draped over their shoulders and they later donned the dancing vests, both gifts symbols of a new relationship between the British monarchy and the small Heiltsuk community.

Marilyn Slett, an elected chief council member, said: "On behalf of our nation we welcome you and we thank you for being here as part of the healing that we are undertaking. As part of our ... feasting system we would like to give our guests a gift."

They were told: "We use these blankets to wrap the spirits of our ancestors around you and to unite your spirits together with ours."

The grey blankets were decorated with the outline of a grizzly bear, trees to represent the forest that surrounded the Heiltsuk community and local flora and fauna.

Dancing vests, which are worn during a major welcoming ceremony called potlatch, were then presented to the smiling royal couple with Kate wearing a white vest and William a black garment.

Their children, who have joined the Cambridges on their eight-day tour of Canada, were not left out and also received tiny vests along with a drum for Prince George and a doll for Princess Charlotte.

William's mother Diana, Princess of Wales was praised for her humanitarian efforts during her lifetime by one senior community member during the welcoming event which featured songs, dances and speeches.

And the Cambridges heard passionate statements from First Nations leaders about their battle to stop the plunder of the natural resources of their lands and the struggle to preserve their way of life for future generations.

Ms Slett also told the Duke how much the community respected his mother Diana, Princess of Wales: "She was a great humanitarian and world advocate and positively impacted the Heiltsuk people and she remains in our hearts."

William and Kate ended their day by strolling through a wooded glade in the Great Bear Rainforest, as they made their way to a plaque unveiling ceremony that formally marked the natural wonder becoming part of the Queen's Commonwealth Canopy network.

They followed a path along a new wooden walkway that led to a fast flowing river whose banks were covered with dead salmon that had returned to the waters to spawn.

The air had a strong stench of rotting fish and Kate pointed at the hundreds of seagulls bobbing up and down in the waters hoping for a fresher meal than the decomposing salmon.

And the plaque unveiling ceremony featured a first - a coat to keep the wooden memorial dry, following a day of torrential rain.