In recent weeks, over 1,000 unmarked graves for Indigenous children have been discovered at former residential schools in Canada—and a wave of anger is sweeping over the nation as it confronts its dark past.
On Thursday, it was Canada Day, which is usually a day of celebration to mark the founding of the nation in the 1800s. But, this year, it was a day of protest and unrest, which saw prominent statues of the British monarchs—Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II—pulled from their pedestals.
Video showed protesters cheering as the Victoria statue outside the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg was dragged down. They then covered the statue’s face in a Canadian flag, pelted it with balloons full of bright paint, and chanted the slogan “no pride in genocide.” A nearby statue of Britain's reigning queen suffered a similar fate.
It’s not clear why the royal statues were targeted, but Victoria reigned from 1837 until her death in 1901, so was head of state at the founding of the Canadian confederation, and when the Canadian government enacted its brutal schools policy to forcibly assimilate Indigenous children.
Over 150,000 Indigenous Canadian children were snatched from their families and forced to attend the schools in the 19th and 20th centuries. Canadian authorities estimate that more than 4,000 children died at the schools—but some experts put the number closer to 15,000.
Belinda Vandenbroeck, a residential school survivor who was at the protests, told CBC she felt no remorse over statue toppling: “This queen is the one that gave our land away just like that to her merry gentlemen—her fur traders... So I really have no place for her in my heart. I never did. She means nothing to me except that her policies and her colonialism is what is dictating us right to this minute as you and I speak.”
One man was reportedly shocked with a stun gun and arrested at the largely peaceful protests in Winnipeg, which were attended by thousands. Protests also took place in Toronto, and a #CancelCanadaDay march in the nation’s capital of Ottawa also attracted thousands of marchers.
Ahead of Canada Day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that celebrations would be muted this year after the recent horrific grave discoveries.
The PM said, “We, as Canadians, must be honest with ourselves about our history because in order to chart a new and better path forward, we have to recognize the terrible mistakes of the past... The truth is we’ve got a long way to go to make things right with Indigenous peoples.”
Last month, a Canadian First Nation tribe said it had found a mass grave with 751 bodies at a Saskatchewan boarding school, 215 bodies were found in Kamloops, and another 182 were unearthed in Cranbrook.