WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Charlottetown city council voted unanimously Monday to remove the Sir John A. Macdonald statue permanently from Victoria Row in the downtown of Prince Edward Island's capital.
The resolution came in light of the discovery that local Indigenous leaders in B.C. believe to be the remains of 215 children on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops.
The downtown Charlottetown statue of Canada's first prime minister, which has been defaced several times in the past year, will go into storage and a decision on its future will be made later.
His role in setting up the schools has made him a target for anger over their legacy of abuse, cultural alienation and sometimes death.
Macdonald's government introduced residential schools in 1883 to remove Indigenous children from their families and prevent them from growing up amid "savages," Macdonald was recorded as saying in the House of Commons.
Chief Junior Gould of the Abegweit First Nation said removing the statue from Victoria Row is a "great decision" in light of the tragic event in B.C.
"I think it was just an inevitability and I'm very happy with the decision."
For decades before, Indigenous leaders have said thousands of children were never heard from again after leaving home to attend the schools.
Survivors have spoken of residences where malnutrition and severe illness were common, and friends would sometimes vanish without explanation. Gould said the discourse around the statue and Macdonald's legacy has changed since the discovery of the children's remains.
"The story that we've been telling quietly, it's slowly being unsilenced," he said. "Now that it's out there and it's not just a story passed on by somebody's grandparents or they once heard this about this, it's a fact."
Earlier this month, Charlottetown city council accepted five recommendations from the Island's First Nations 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 outlining the dark history of residential schools in Canada.
The story that we've been telling quietly, it's slowly being unsilenced. — Chief Junior Gould
Monday's decision by Charlottetown councillors rescinds that May 10 resolution and takes the statue out of public view entirely, in the city where the idea of the union that would become Canada was promoted by Macdonald and other early politicians.
Gould said he expects the Epekwitk Assembly of Councils to be consulted should the statue appear in public again. He said he believes it belongs in a museum.
"I'm OK with history, I'm not about cancel culture," he said. "It's not about cancelling the founder of this great nation. It's not about that. I think he belongs in an appropriate place. It is history and I think the glorification of the individual because it did affect a certain segment of our Canadian society … [and] that part of Canadian society should have been respected."
The Epekwitk Assembly of Councils issued a statement Monday evening on the removal of the statue.
It reads: "On behalf of the Epekwitk Assembly of Councils, the Epekwitk Mi'kmaq Chiefs are pleased to see
Charlottetown City Council has finally made the decision to remove the Sir John A. statue from its current
location. Action on this issue has been long overdue.
"However, it is still expected that the five recommendations, provided by the Assembly, be implemented if the
statue is to be reinstalled in a different location at a later date."
Coun. Greg Rivard, who spoke about the topic at Monday's council meeting, said nothing short of removing the statue permanently should be considered acceptable.
"It was truly the right thing to do, I mean it was as simple as that, based on the news that broke last week. It shouldn't have been the reason but, you know, this certainly was a determining factor."
Coun. Julie McCabe, who introduced the new resolution, said in a news release she was sorry it took such a "horrendous revelation" to change council's mind.
"I know it took longer than many think it should have, and I know some will say this came too late, but I hope that we can come together as a city and as a province and move forward towards true reconciliation with our Indigenous communities."
Rivard said he expects the Public Works department to act quickly to get the statue removed.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports. A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.