WINNIPEG, Canada (Dispatches) -- Protesters have toppled statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II in the Canadian city of Winnipeg as anger grows over the discovery of the remains of hundreds of children in unmarked graves at former indigenous schools.
Members of the group, wearing orange shirts to honor Indigenous children, gathered at the Manitoba legislature on Thursday and pulled down the statue of Victoria.
They covered the figurine and its plinth in red handprints and left a sign that read, “We were children once. Bring them home.”
They also toppled a smaller statue of Elizabeth on the east side of the grounds.
The action against the royals, seen as representatives of the country’s colonial history, took place on Canada Day on Thursday, when traditionally celebrations take place across the country.
However, many cities scrapped events this year as the scandal over the indigenous children made Canadians confront their 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.
Beginning in May, almost 1,000 unmarked graves were found at former residential schools mainly run by the Catholic Church and funded by the government in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
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.
Thousands gathered on Parliament Hill in Ottawa for the “Cancel Canada Day” rally, shouting
“Shame on Canada” and “Bring them home”.
A #CancelCanadaDay march turned into a sea of orange, with participants carrying a large banner that read, “No pride in genocide.”
Hundreds of people, likewise in orange shirts, also marched through downtown Toronto, Canada’s financial capital, in support of the indigenous children.
“We will not celebrate stolen Indigenous land and stolen indigenous lives. Instead we will gather to honor all of the lives lost to the Canadian state,” said the group Idle No More.
Canada has tried to project itself as a haven for tolerance, but data shows inequalities abound both for indigenous communities and among visible minorities.
The discovery of the remains has coincided with a deadly attack on a Muslim family in June that killed three generations of members in a case of domestic terrorism.
According to the latest data by StatCan, hate crimes against Muslims rose 9% to 181 in 2019. The Angus Reid survey found about 36% of indigenous people and 42% of visible minorities said Canada is a racist country.
A number of Muslim women who wear hijabs have also been attacked in Alberta in recent weeks, while in Quebec a law banning public servants from wearing the hijab is facing legal challenges, and critics have called the measure a form of institutionalized racism.
Indigenous people, who make up less than 5% of the population, face higher levels of poverty and violence and shorter life expectancy.
The unemployment rate for visible minorities, who make up more than 20% of the total population, was 11.4% in May compared with 7.0% for whites, according to Statistics Canada. In 2020, the unemployment rate for indigenous people in Ontario was 12.5%, compared with 9.5% for non-indigenous people.
Some 30% of visible minorities and indigenous peoples feel treated like outsiders in their own country, according to an Angus Reid Institute poll on diversity and racism published on June 21.
Canada’s New Democrat lawmaker Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, who is Inuk, said she felt unsafe in the House of Commons as an indigenous woman, and last month announced she would not run for re-election.