Protesters in Winnipeg, Canada, have toppled statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II as outrage grows over the discovery of hundreds of children’s remains in unmarked graves at former indigenous schools.
Before tearing down the monarchs’ statues, a crowd chanted “no pride in genocide.”
The incident occurred on Canada Day, which is traditionally marked by celebrations across the country.
However, many cities cancelled events this year as a result of the indigenous children scandal, which forced Canadians to confront their colonial past. The day will be “a time for reflection,” according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Almost 1,000 unmarked graves have been discovered at former Catholic Church-run and government-funded residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
The schools forcibly separated indigenous children from their families for 165 years, until 1996, subjecting them to malnutrition, physical and sexual abuse in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission dubbed “cultural genocide” in 2015.
A crowd cheered as Queen Victoria’s statue was lowered outside the Manitoba provincial legislature in Winnipeg. Protesters kicked and danced around the toppled statue, many of whom wore orange clothing. The pedestal and statue were smeared with red paint hand marks.
A nearby Queen Elizabeth statue was also demolished. Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1901 when Canada was a part of the British Empire, and she is Canada’s current head of state.
On Thursday, protests in support of indigenous children took place in Toronto, Canada’s financial capital, and a #CancelCanadaDay march in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, drew thousands in support of victims and survivors of the residential school system.
In other parts of the country, vigils and rallies were held. Many people wore orange clothing, which has become the movement’s symbol.
The discovery of the children’s remains at the former schools “has rightfully pressed us to reflect on our country’s historical failures,” Trudeau said in his Canada Day message. In Canada, he said, inequity still exists for indigenous peoples and many others.
The government, according to a spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, condemns any desecration of Queen Elizabeth II statues.
“Our thoughts are with Canada’s indigenous community following these tragic discoveries, and we follow these issues closely and continue to engage with the government of Canada on indigenous matters,” he said.