Thursday was Canada Day—but after a series of horrific finds at former residential schools for Indigenous children, many were in no mood to celebrate. In Winnipeg, an "Every Child Matters" march ended at the Manitoba Legislature, where protesters toppled a statue of Queen Victoria erected in 1904, the BBC reports. Video showed protesters cheering as the large statue of the monarch—Canada's head of state at the time treaties were negotiated with Indigenous people and the residential schools policy was introduced—was pulled down with ropes. A smaller statue of Queen Elizabeth II, Canada's current head of state, was also toppled. In recent weeks, hundreds of bodies have been found in unmarked graves on the grounds of former residential schools, where Indigenous children were taken as part of a policy of forced assimilation that lasted more than a century.
Many of the schools were run by the Catholic church, and protesters Thursday called for an apology from church leaders and for the Canadian government to recognize the schools' policy as genocide. "People belittle it and say, oh, they died of TB, they died of measles," Indigenous woman Lucy Antsanen tells the Winnipeg Free Press. "In the first place, should the kids even be there, taken away from their families, their language, their culture?" she said. "Our souls are hungry, and we have to speak up." Catholic churches across the country have also been targeted, with several on Indigenous land burned to the ground. A century-old Catholic church in Alberta was burned Wednesday, and police say a Thursday fire at a church in Yellowknife, Yukon Territory, appears suspicious, the CBC reports. (Read more Canada stories.)