In the last ten days, four churches on First Nation reserves in Canada have burned down under “suspicious” circumstances just as Indigenous People’s Day was being observed in the country.
On Saturday, churches on the Chuchuwayha Indian Reserve and the Lower Similkameen Indian Band were burned to the ground.
On June 21, twin fires destroyed churches on the Osoyoos Indian Band reserve and the Penticton Indian Band reserve, respectively. This was the day National Indigenous People’s Day was observed in Canada.
All four churches were Catholic.
Catholic Churches burn on Indian reserves in the South Okanagan on National Indigenous Peoples Day. This church on #Penticton Indian Band land off Green Mountain road reduced to rubble early this morning. Fire officials won’t confirm arson. @GlobalOkanagan pic.twitter.com/XgqdplQOOT
— Shelby Thom (@Shelby_Thom) June 21, 2021
These incidents are made all the more mysterious by the fact that they come just weeks after the unsettling preliminary discovery of the remains of 215 children on the site of a former school for indigenous children that was operated by the Catholic Church.
Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan ultimately announced it had found 751 on the grounds of the former Marieval Indian Residential School, which was the largest such school for native children at one point.
Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel, whose tribe was served by one of the churches burned to the ground, said the discovery of the graves coupled with the fires has caused a range of feelings from anger to hurt.
“There’s a lot of anger and hurt in our community, from the residential school survivors and elders,” he explained, according to the New York Times. “A lot of families, including my own, had events like funerals, marriages and baptisms in that church. Elders were attached to the church and some feel hurt by its loss.”
First Nation leaders have noted that their family members always talked about the deaths at Canada’s residential schools, yet were not heeded.
“A lot of survivors, my relatives, they’ve been saying this for years and years — that there was a lot of death, there’s a lot of unmarked graves,” said Perry Bellegarde, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, which is the largest group representing the native population in Canada.
“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,” Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band said, according to CTV News.
“I’m angry,” Chief Crow was quoted as saying by the BBC. “I don’t see any positive coming from this and it’s going to be tough.”
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