After the bones of children were discovered in unmarked graves at a residential school in British Columbia, about 80 P.E.I. Mi’kmaq and other Indigenous and non-Indigenous supporters gathered in downtown Charlottetown Monday morning near a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald for a vigil. The bodies of 215 children are buried on the site outside a former residential school in Kamloops.
The remains were discovered, according to early findings from a ground-penetrating radar study, by the Tk’emlps te Secwépemc First Nation on Thursday. Thousands of children perished and were buried in unmarked graves while the schools were open, according to Indigenous leaders, who have claimed for decades that thousands of children died and were buried in unmarked graves while the schools were open.
On Monday morning in Charlottetown, Mi’kmaw jingle dancers performed, prayers and speeches were held, and others formed a circle around the statue of Canada’s first prime minister, whose government established schools in 1883 to separate children from their families and prevent them from growing up among “savages,” as Macdonald was quoted in the House of Commons.
The Charlottetown vigil was dominated by shoes. Chief Junior Gould of the Abegweit First Nation revealed a plan on Sunday to honour the Kamloops schoolchildren with a display of 215 pairs of shoes outside the band’s administration building on Monday at 2 p.m. For the morning vigil, some of the shoes collected for that occasion were brought to the corner of Queen Street and Victoria Row.
Flags are flying at half-mast across P.E.I. in honor of the children. Flags of the United States were also lowered across the country. The John A. Macdonald statue in Charlottetown has been a target for people concerned over his relationship with Indigenous peoples, which includes activities that aggravated a near-starvation situation on the Prairies as immigrants slaughtered bison to near-extinction.
The statue has been damaged with paint and other substances on several occasions, as well as being knocked over once. Charlottetown municipal council approved a number of ideas from the Island’s First Nations groups on how to improve the statue earlier this month. The addition of an Indigenous figure on the bench previously held by Sir John A. Macdonald’s figure, as well as new signs, are among them.