A statue of Queen Victoria has been toppled in Canada amid growing outrage over the discovery of unmarked graves belonging to Indigenous children.
A group gathered at the Manitoba legislature pulled down the statue on Canada Day – an annual celebration on 1 July that marks the country’s confederation.
Members of the group, wearing orange shirts to honour Indigenous children sent to the country’s notorious residential schools, covered the statue and its plinth in red handprints and left a sign that read “We were children once. Bring them home.”
A smaller statue of Queen Elizabeth II was also toppled on the east side of the grounds. Both royals are seen as representative of the country’s colonial history.
At least 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families to attend the schools over a century as part of the campaign by the government to forcefully assimilate the children into Canadian society.
On Thursday, the Lower Kootenay Band announced they had discovered 182 human remains in unmarked graves at a former residential school— the latest in a series of grim discoveries that have shocked the country.
The recent discoveries had previously led to calls from Indigenous groups to not celebrate Canada Day.
“We will not celebrate stolen Indigenous land and stolen indigenous lives. Instead we will gather to honour all of the lives lost to the Canadian state,” said the group Idle No More, calling for national rallies to support Indigenous communities.
In Ottawa, thousands gathered on Parliament Hill for the “Cancel Canada Day” rally, shouting “Shame on Canada” and “Bring them home”.
Prime minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the sombre tone of the federal holiday has taken on this year, an event typically marked with fireworks, picnics and downtown parties.
“The horrific findings of the remains of hundreds of children at the sites of former residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan have rightly pressed us to reflect on our country’s historic failures, and the injustices that still exist for Indigenous peoples and many others in Canada,” he said in a statement. “We as Canadians must be honest with ourselves about our past.”
On Thursday, Calgary police announced that 10 churches in the city had been vandalized overnight with orange and red paint. One just had a window smashed so paint could be thrown inside. Police say painted handprints and “215”— a reference to the first discovery of unmarked graves by the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pem in late May—suggested the vandalism was linked to outrage over the unmarked graves.
Protestors have increasingly targeted historical figures that were complicit in the establishment and operation of the schools, which lasted more than a century.
Last month, protesters also pulled down the statue of Egerton Ryerson in Toronto. A prominent figure, Ryerson is widely seen as an architect of the country’s residential school system.