Four Catholic churches have been burned to the ground in Canada less than a month after the first findings of remains of First Nation children at the sites of former Indian Residential Schools managed by the institution.
On the morning of June 26, St. Ann’s Church and Chopaka Church both situated in the Similkameen region of British Columbia were set alight. Both churches were burnt to the ground.
The burnings follow recent events last week where a church situated on Osoyoos Indian Band reserve and another on Penticton Indian Band reserve were also burned and destroyed in BC.
In an interview with Castanet News, Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band said he woke up early Saturday to the news that the church was on fire.
“It’s a big impact,” he said.
“We still have our Christian and Catholic followers, and they just had service a couple weeks ago at that church. They were very upset on Monday when the two churches were burnt in Osoyoos and Penticton. Now that these ones have burnt, it’s devastating to them.”
An investigation into the fires is underway and both are being treated as suspicious.
“I really don’t condone the actions of whoever’s done this, but it is under investigation. We’ll have to wait and see,” Chief Crow said.
Penticton Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are looking into any connection between the first two church fires.
“The investigations into the previous [two] fires and these two new fires are ongoing with no arrests or charges,” said Sergeant Jason Bayda.
The churches were burnt almost a month after Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation discovered the remains of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
The remains of 751 people were also found at the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan by the Cowessess First Nation last Thursday.
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Speaking on the discoveries, Chief Crow said First Nation communities were “in for more hurt now”.
“Look at what happened in Saskatchewan, Kamloops, and Williams Lake is doing their testing right now,” he said.
“When all the rest of the residential schools start doing testing, there’s just going to be more and more pain that comes out; the 215 was just a start.”
He urged First Nation communities, survivors and family members to reach out for help.
“I really encourage people to reach out to somebody … I’ve offered myself up to anyone if they need to chat and want to have a talk. I feel for all of them,” he said.
In the wake of the discoveries of the almost 1,000 bodies across Canada, US Secretary of the Interior and Laguna Pueblo woman, Deb Haaland announced a Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative in the United States.
Announced at the National Congress of American Indians 2021 Mid-Year Conference, the initiative will be a comprehensive review of the legacy of federal boarding school policies.
“The Interior Department will address the intergenerational impact of Indian boarding schools to shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be,” said Secretary Haaland.
“I know that this process will be long and difficult. I know that this process will be painful.
“It won’t undo the heartbreak and loss we feel. But only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future that we’re all proud to embrace.”
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland said the US Government must “shed light on what happened at federal boarding schools”.
“As we move forward in this work, we will engage in Tribal consultation on how best to use this information, protect burial sites, and respect families and communities.”
By Rachael Knowles