VANCOUVER, British Columbia (CNS) – Churches across Canada have been destroyed or damaged by fires that police are describing as suspicious or suspected arson.
More than half a dozen fires in churches, many on First Nations grounds, have happened since June 21.
The fires occurred as news has emerged of unmarked graves at former residential schools on First Nations lands. About 70 per cent of the government schools were run by Catholic religious orders, which worked to assimilate the First Nations students. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission said more than 4000 students died while attending the residential schools, and many of the families never heard what happened to them.
But First Nations leaders have condemned the fires. Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band, who is also tribal chair and spokesman for the Okanagan Nation Alliance, told Global News on June 27 he has no doubt the fires were intentionally set.
“Obviously, it’s the same group of people. Why did they do it under the cover of darkness? Because it’s a criminal act and they are criminal,” he said.
Lower Similkameen Indian Band Chief Keith Crow told CBC that many in the community were members at one of the church’s damaged by fire, and were very upset.
“I’m angry,” he told CBC. “I don’t see any positive coming from this and it’s going to be tough.”
Perry Bellegarde, Assembly of First Nations national chief, said on June 30 the Indigenous way is not to burn things down, but, rather, is about building relationships and coming together.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mentioned the church fires, saying: “This is not the way to go. The destruction of places of worship is unacceptable. And it must stop.”
Photo: Flames engulf St Jean Baptiste Church in Morinville, Alberta, on June 30, 2021, in this still image taken form video obtained from social media. This church was not on First Nation land. (CNS photo/Diane Burrel, social media via Reuters)