Protesters have called for an independent investigation into “Canada’s crimes” against indigenous people as public outrage grows over the grim discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former “residential schools” that native children were forced to attend.
Hundreds of people gathered on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Saturday to demand a fully-funded independent probe into a boarding school system that forcibly separated indigenous children from their families for decades and subjected them to harsh disciplinary methods supposedly to prepare them to become assimilated into society.
"Indigenous Peoples need truth and justice," lawmaker Mumilaaq Qaqqaq of the New Democratic Party, wrote on Instagram, calling for the rally.
"That means a special prosecutor and a fully-funded independent investigation, with international observers present, into Canada's crimes against Indigenous Peoples," she added.
She also called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Justice Minister David Lametti "to stop making excuses" and launch a probe.
The rally came as outrage is building across the nation owing to the grim discovery of more than 1,000 unmarked graves near former residential schools in recent weeks. Some of the bodies belonged to children as young as three years old.
Canada’s residential school system forcibly separated more than 150,000 First Nations children from their families between 1831 and 1996.
The children were subjected to abuse, malnutrition and rape in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission tasked with investigating the system called “cultural genocide” in 2015.
The communities were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages.
Indigenous community leaders have called on police to file criminal charges against the Canadian government, churches and individual perpetrators of crimes committed in the institutions.
Back in June, Trudeau described the discovery as heartbreaking and pledged to open an investigation into the deaths.
Taking office in 2015, Trudeau pledged to make Canada's almost 1.7 million indigenous people a priority of his government.
He said often that no relationship was more important to him than the one between Canada and its indigenous communities.