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Demonstrators hold a sign reading "No pride in genocide" on Canada Day

People watch dancers perform during a "No Pride in Genocide" anti-Canada Day event in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, July 1, 2021. (Photo: Cole Burston / AFP via Getty Images)

Queen Statues Toppled Amid Outrage Over Unmarked Graves of Indigenous Children

The number of unmarked graves found on the grounds of former residential schools passed 1,000 on Thursday, prompting many Indigenous people and allies to hold rallies and vigils.

Julia Conley

As the number of unmarked graves of Indigenous children discovered in Canada passed 1,000 this week, rights advocates in Winnipeg, Manitoba toppled two statues connected with the country's past of genocide and forced assimilation. 

A group of demonstrators gathered at the Manitoba legislature on Thursday, as the country marked Canada Day, and pulled down a statue of Queen Victoria. The Queen led the British monarchy in 1867 when Canada was established as a country, and was in power when the government and the Catholic Church began a residential school system for Indigenous children that was linked to the disappearances and abuse of thousands of children.

The demonstrators chanted, "No pride in genocide" and covered the statue's base in red painted handprints, displaying a sign reading, "We were children once. Bring them home."

"This queen is the one that gave our land away just like that to her merry gentlemen—her fur traders," Belinda Vandenbroeck, a survivor of the residential school system who addressed the crowd, told the CBC. "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."

"[Queen Elizabeth] 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."
—Belinda Vandenbroeck, residential school survivor

On Thursday, the Lower Kootenay Band said they had found 182 human remains on the grounds of a former residential school in British Columbia, a week after the Cowessess First Nation discovered 751 unmarked graves at the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, which was in operation until 1997. 

Late last month, the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation found 215 bodies in unmarked graves on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.

The discoveries, made with radar technology, likely represent a fraction of the children who died and were buried in unmarked graves in the residential school system, officials say. From the 1880s until the 1990s, about 150,000 Indigenous children were sent to residential schools across the country, where many were subjected to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; punished violently for using their native languages; and forced to convert to Christianity and use new names. 

At the Manitoba government building, demonstrators also toppled a smaller statue of Queen Elizabeth II. According to the BBC, police used a stun gun to arrest one man at the protest. 

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission said in 2015 that the school system was a government attempt at "cultural genocide."

Indigenous people and allies gathered elsewhere in Canada including Ottawa; London, Ontario; and Fredericton, New Brunswick where they marched and held vigils for the children who were victims of the residential school system, and demanded that the government take the actions called for by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission six years ago. 

"We've been shown and let down so many times before by our premiers and prime ministers, by politicians, police, churches, schools, and institutions that they are not going to listen to the thousands of hours of lived experiences," said Robert Leamon, co-founder of the Indigenous Activist Collective, at an event in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. "They're not going to listen to peace and friendship. They're going to listen to pressure."

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