Mi’kmaq, supporters hold vigil for 215 residential school victims at Sir John A statue

Dozens of P.E.I. Mi’kmaq and non-Indigenous supporters gathered in downtown Charlottetown Monday morning at a statue of Sir John A MacDonald for a vigil following the discovery of a mass grave outside at residential school in British Columbia.

The grave, outside a former residential school in Kamloops, contains the bodies of 215 children.

The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced on Thursday that preliminary findings from a ground-penetrating radar survey had uncovered the remains

The announcement led to reactions of shock and horror across Canada on the weekend, though Indigenous leaders have said for decades that thousands of children died and were buried in unmarked graves while the schools were in operation. 

On Monday mornng in Charlottetown, Mi’kmaw jingle dancers performed while other people formed a circle around the statue of Canada’s first prime minister, whose government introduced the schools in 1883 to remove children from their families and prevent them from growing up amid “savages,” Macdonald was recorded as saying in the House of Comments.

Shoes played a major role in the Charlottetown demonstration. 

Abegweit First Nation Chief Junior Gould announced a plan Sunday to honour the children of the Kamloops school with a display of 215 pairs of shoes outside the band’s administration office on Monday afternoon. Some of the shoes collected for that event were brought to the corner of Queen Street and Victoria Row for the morning event.  

For almost a year, the John A. Macdonald statue has been a target for people upset about his history with Indigenous peoples, which included actions that worsened a state of near-starvation on the Prairies as newcomers hunted bison to near-extinction.

The statue has been repeatedly defaced with paint and other substances and was knocked over once.

Earlier this month, Charlottetown city council accepted a number of recommendations from the Island’s First Nations communities on changes that should be made to the statue. They include the addition of an Indigenous figure on the bench occupied by Sir John A. Macdonald’s figure, and new signage. 

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