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Fires Destroy Two Churches in Canada’s Indigenous Reserves

Canada mourns as two more Catholic churches located in Indigenous communities were burned overnight. Two similar fires in British Columbia were reported less than a week ago, according to German news broadcaster, Deutsche Welle.

St. Anne’s Church on Upper Similkameen Indian Band land, and the Chopaka Church on the lands of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band have gone up in flames around 3 a.m. on June 26. Both churches, more than 100 years old, were burned to the ground and authorities considered the two fires as “suspicious.”

These churches represent a place of worship for community members as well as gathering spaces for many, for various celebrations and times of loss. It will be felt deeply for those that sought comfort and solace in the Church. —Similkameen Indian Bands

Sergeant Jason Bayda of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canada’s national police force, said they are “looking to determine any possible connection to the church fires in both Penticton and Oliver on June 21, 2021.”

RCMP issued a statement after the previous week’s fires, saying investigators “won’t speculate on a motive.”

The Similkameen Indian Bands have expressed their disbelief and anger over the burning of their churches, reports Peace Arch News. They issued a press release stating that, “These churches represent a place of worship for community members as well as gathering spaces for many, for various celebrations and times of loss. It will be felt deeply for those that sought comfort and solace in the Church.”

The churches were historical landmarks in the Indigenous reserves. The Lower Similkameen Indian Band recalled how some of their community members gathered in church.

“This is a symptom of the intergenerational trauma our survivors and intergenerational descendants are experiencing, there are supports to help deal with these emotions in a more healing way,” the Lower Similkameen said.

“While we cannot speculate that the person(s) responsible had any connections to our Communities of Upper and Lower Similkameen, all we can do now is be there to support others during this time of loss in community and the loss of our historical landmarks,” reads the press release.

The groups also issued a request to: “Please be respectful while the LSIB and USIB confirm what next steps will be taken with this loss and now recovery of such landmarks and historical gathering places known in the Similkameen Valley.”

The church fires followed the discovery of nearly a thousand unmarked graves at former church-run residential schools where Indigenous children were removed from their homes, forced to convert to Christianity and prohibited from practicing their native customs, language and traditions.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has issued an apology for Canada’s longtime Indigenous assimilation policy which ended in the 1990s.

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