Statues of Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria were torn down in the Canadian city of Winnipeg by protesters furious over the recent discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves of indigenous children.
Demonstrators also brought down a statue of the 18th century Royal Navy captain James Cook during protests on Canada Day, a national holiday to mark the country’s confederation.
The protests came amid growing outrage after at least 750 unmarked graves were found at Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan and another 215 were found buried in Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.
At least 150,000 Indigenous children were separated from their families to attend government-funded, church-run boarding schools as part of a campaign by the government to forcefully assimilate indigenous children into Canadian society.
A spokesman for Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, said he “condemned any defacing of statues of the Queen”.
A No 10 spokesman added: “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 with indigenous matters.”
Protesters cheered as the statue was brought down in Manitoba’s capital, amid cries of “No pride in genocide” and “Bring her down!”
Some stood on the statue’s empty plinth waving flags, while others covered the base in red handprints.
They wore orange shirts to honour the indigenous children whose lives were lost in notorious residential schools during the late 1800s until the 1990s.
The protesters also covered the Queen Victoria statue with red paint and left a sign that read, “We were children once. Bring them home.”
Belinda Vandenbroeck, a survivor of a residential school, expressed anger at Victoria for giving away the land.
"This queen is the one that gave our land away, just like that, to her merry gentleman — her fur traders," she told CBC news..
"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," she said.
During the reign of Victoria, Canada entered into Confederation and signed treaties with indigenous peoples. The residential schools policy was also enacted during the monarch’s rule (from 1837 until her death in 1901).
The discoveries of graves overshadowed Canada Day celebrations as people asked to cancel the festivities usually marked with fireworks and celebrations.
The prime minister, Justin Trudeau, acknowledged the country’s failures and injustices on the federal holiday.
“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,” he said.
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