Canadian professor calls on Queen to apologise for historic injustices after mass unmarked graves of children found

·Royal Correspondent
·6-min read

Watch: Queen Victoria and Elizabeth II statues toppled over treatment of indigenous children

A professor in Canada has called on the Queen to apologise for historic injustices amid growing anger over the discovery of the remains of hundreds of children in unmarked graves at former indigenous schools.

Statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II were pulled down in Winnipeg on Thursday during protests on Canada Day, which marks the country's founding by British colonies in 1867.

It follows the discovery of the remains of hundreds of indigenous children at unmarked graves in the country after their deaths at the notorious residential schools.

Some 150,000 indigenous children were sent to the institutions which opened in 1867 in Victoria's reign and continued until as recently as 1996.

They were subjected to cruel conditions as part of a policy of assimilation. 

A defaced statue of Queen Victoria lies after being toppled during a rally, following the discovery of the remains of hundreds of children at former indigenous residential schools, outside the provincial legislature on Canada Day in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada July 1, 2021.  REUTERS/Shannon VanRaes     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A defaced statue of Queen Victoria lies after being toppled during a rally, following the discovery of the remains of hundreds of children at former indigenous residential schools, outside the provincial legislature on Canada Day in Winnipeg, Canada. (Reuters)
A defaced statue of Queen Victoria lies after being toppled during a rally, following the discovery of the remains of hundreds of children at former indigenous residential schools, outside the provincial legislature on Canada Day in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada July 1, 2021.  REUTERS/Shannon VanRaes
The UK government condemned the toppling. (Reuters)

The government has condemned the toppling of the statues: "We obviously condemn any defacing of statues of the Queen.

"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."

There has not been a comment from Buckingham Palace. 

The developments follow a rocky few months in the relationship between Britain and the 15 other countries where the Queen is head of state.

Allegations of racism made by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in their interview with Oprah Winfrey in March threatened to damage the ties that bind, while recent revelations that Buckingham Palace had "banned" Black people from clerical roles created more upset.

In June, The Guardian unearthed papers from the 1960s in which Queen’s chief financial manager informed civil servants "it was not, in fact, the practice to appoint coloured immigrants or foreigners" for clerical roles, but that they could work as domestic servants.

The Palace refused to answer questions about the apparent ban and said it had records of people from ethnic minority backgrounds being employed during the 1990s, but did not keep account of race before then.

BRANFORD, CANADA - JULY 01: People take part in a tribute march to the Mohawk Institute residential school, organized by Brantford Regional Indigenous Support Centre, for children who lost their lives while staying in residential schools, on July 01, 2021 in Branford, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Seyit Aydogan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
People take part in a tribute march to the Mohawk Institute residential school for children who lost their lives while staying in residential schools in Branford, Ontario, on Canada Day. (Getty)

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Dr Kimberley Ducey, Associate Professor in the department of sociology, at the University of Winnipeg said the news was "absolutely unsurprising", adding the note was "disturbingly telling".

Dr Ducey, who has written a book on systemic racism in the case of Meghan Markle, cited the recent discovery in Canada of the bodies of 215 Indigenous children, found in unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian residential school in British Columbia as part of the ongoing relationship between Canada and the monarchy.

She said: "This Indian residential school was only one of more than 150 such institutions that brutally separated Indigenous children from their families to assimilate them into white Canadian society, for more than 100 years. It was the largest institution of its kind in Canada, and was run by the Roman Catholic Church from 1890 to 1969.

"I would like to see Pope Francis apologise on behalf of the Church, but also Queen Elizabeth II for the role of the monarchy, given the British monarchy’s actions led to the establishment of residential Indian schools."

CRANBROOK, BC - JULY 1 A view of the former St. Eugene's Mission School in Cranbook, BC on July 1, 2021. As a child, Pierre was forced to live in the residential school for nine years, she is now the General Manager of the resort that took over the former school site. Another Indigenous community in British Columbia says ground-penetrating radar has found human remains near a former residential school. The Lower Kootenay Band said remains of 182 people were found in unmarked graves close to the former St. Eugene's Mission School near Cranbrook, British Columbia. A present-day cemetery is in the vicinity of the unmarked graves. (Photo by Dave Chidley/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
The former St. Eugene's Mission School in Cranbook, after another Indigenous community in British Columbia said ground-penetrating radar has found human remains near a former residential school. (Getty)

Dr Ducey said: "That the Queen has not apologised for such historical injustices is symptomatic of an absence of regret and of antipathy to historic wrongs."

Support for the monarchy appears to be dwindling in Canada. A poll by the Angus Reid Institute in February found that 21% of Canadians thought the monarchy was still relevant.

55% thought it was no longer relevant, a jump from 41% who felt that way in January 2020.

Support for the Queen as the head of state was down to 50%. It had been 61% in January 2020.

A month later Research Co polling found 45% would prefer an elected head of state up 13 points from a similar poll it carried out in February 2020.

Protesters in Winnipeg on Thursday chanted "No pride in genocide" and "Bring her down" as the statue was toppled.

Some covered the base in red handprints while others waved flags.

Belinda Vandenbroeck, a residential school survivor, told CBC in Canada: "This queen is the one that gave our land away just like that to her merry gentlemen - her fur traders.

"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."

Britain's Prince Charles takes part in a native blessing by Mi'kmaq Indians in Bonshaw Park, Prince Edward Island, May 20, 2014.  The royal couple are on a four-day visit to Canada that began in Halifax and includes stops in Pictou, Nova Scotia, the Prince Edward Island towns of Charlottetown, Bonshaw and Cornwall and concludes in Winnipeg. REUTERS/Mark Blinch (CANADA  - Tags: ROYALS SOCIETY ENTERTAINMENT)
Prince Charles taking part in a native blessing by Mi'kmaq Indians in Bonshaw Park, Prince Edward Island, in 2014 during a four-day visit to Canada. (Reuters)

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Lawyer and activist Tara Houska told Democracy Now the discovery of the graves are a "gut punch" of the people who were taken from them.

Ahead of the 1 July events, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau issued a more sombre message, urging reflection as well as celebration after the discovery of the unmarked graves.

He said: "Today, we celebrate our country and everyone who calls it home.

"But while we acknowledge our successes, we must also recognise that, for some, Canada Day is not yet a day of celebration."

He said the discovery had "have rightfully pressed us to reflect on our country's historical failures, and the injustices that still exist for Indigenous peoples and many others in Canada".

He did not take on any official events on Canada Day, but spoke to Phyllis Webstad, the executive director of the Orange Shirt Society, which supports residential school reconciliation, CBC reported.

The Royal Family has traditionally had a good relationship with Canada, and it's the nation the Queen had visited the most when she was still making trips abroad. 

Trudeau has been reluctant to open conversations about the future of the Queen as their head of state since the latest issues within the monarchy.

In March he said: "The answer is not to suddenly toss out all the institutions and start over.

"I wish all the members of the Royal Family all the best, but my focus is getting through this pandemic. If people want to later talk about constitutional change and shifting our system of government that's fine, and they can have those conversations, but right now I'm not having those conversations."

Last year, Barbados announced it would move to replace the Queen with an elected head of state by November 2021, when it marked 55 years of independence.

The Queen responded by saying the decision was a "matter for the people of Barbados".

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