Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Fire destroys two Catholic churches on Canadian native land

MONTREAL — National Canadian police were investigating Tuesday after a two-century-old Catholic church on indigenous land in British Columbia burned to the ground within hours of each other.

Indigenous leaders said they were particularly upset by the timing of the fire, which occurred on National Indigenous People’s Day, which celebrates indigenous culture. The fire comes at a particularly crude moment just weeks after the unmarked graves of 215 children were found near a former church-run school in British Columbia.

Although the circumstances remained unclear, investigators said one line of investigation was arson, which likely targeted indigenous communities.

Investigators said another possible motive was anger towards the Roman Catholic Church. The two churches are about 120 miles from Kamloops Indian Residential School, where children’s graves were discovered on the grounds in May.

From 1883 to 1996, an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were sent to church-run residential schools, where their culture was forcibly suppressed in an event called “cultural genocide” in 2015.

Word of the fire – at Sacred Heart Church in the Penticton Indian Band area and St. Gregory’s Church on the area belonging to the Ossouse Indian Band – resonated across Canada at a time when the mistreatment of indigenous peoples gripped the nation’s consciousness.

Indigenous leaders expressed shock, disbelief and anger at the destruction of the churches on Tuesday.

Head of the Penticton Indian Band, Greg Gabriel, insisted that the motive of the fire remains a mystery. He said his community had “mixed feelings” over the burning of the Sacred Heart Church on their land, a record made more painful by the discovery in Kamloops, given the Roman Catholic Church’s history of subjugating indigenous peoples.

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But Chief Gabriel said some in the community were also upset that a place of worship, rest and sanctuary, which had been an integral part of the community’s social fabric for 110 years, had been burned.

“In our community, there is a lot of anger and hurt from residential school survivors and veterans,” Chief Gabriel said, adding, “Any act of arson was unacceptable if it turned out that the fire was intentional.” “With my own families, funerals, weddings and baptisms took place in that church. The elders were attached to the church and some people feel hurt by its loss.”

He said video footage showed a vehicle leaving the spot.

Chief Clarence Louis Osoyoos Indian Band, said his community was also vague about the church. “I don’t believe in the church. I don’t believe in those symbols, but some of our people do,” said Chief Louis, adding that a handful of church-goers remain in the reserve. He said the fire, which started at night It looked like “vandalism”.

The surrounding Okanagan Valley is a wonderfully picturesque area known for its extensive vineyards and lakeside vacation areas. This region, which extends about 125 miles north of the border with Washington state, has produced one of the Canadian The first indigenously owned winery.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokesman Sergeant Jason Beyda said that although the area is known for wildfires, arson incidents are rare. He said the police were not speculating about the circumstances.

“I’ve never heard anything like this here before,” he said. “We are sensitive to recent events,” he said, pointing to the discovery of unmarked graves of children.

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He said the RCMP was investigating the fire, and had sent forensic investigators to comb through the burned remains of the churches.

Oliver Fire Department chief Bob Graham, who fought and helped investigate the St. Gregory fire, said the fire started about two hours after the Sacred Heart burned. He said the time – the Sacred Heart fire was discovered at 1:22 a.m. on Monday; The RCMP was notified of the St. Gregory fire at 3:10 a.m. – seemed more than a coincidence.

Chief Graham said he suspected that a liquid accelerator may have been used because of the burning pattern on the ground. Both churches were old and made of wood, he said, and the level of destruction would make the evidence more difficult to parse.

“The timing of the two fires is very questionable,” Chief Graham said, adding that one line of investigation is that the two fires are linked.

St. Gregory’s pastor Rev Thomas Kakkaniel said on Sunday the church celebrated its first mass in a year after being closed by COVID-19 restrictions. He said that he believed the church was targeted by parties outside the Osoyus Indian Band.

Emma Anderson, a professor of religious studies at the University of Ottawa, said the burning of a church was a particularly visceral, symbolic and symbolic form of violence against the Roman Catholic Church, as churches and their relics are symbols of religion.

He noted that, “despite its historical blunders and sins, the church has been a historical mainstay in the lives of some indigenous peoples.”

Wojosa Isai in Toronto contributed reporting.

Nation World News Desk
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