By Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – Catholic Churches on First Nations across Western Canada are being threatened as two more churches in British Columbia have burned down.
On June 26, Chopaka Church, located within the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, was destroyed in a fire.
That same day a fire at St. Ann’s church also occurred, this time in the Upper Similkameen Indian Band, which left the church completely disintegrated.
A band representative said that the nation is currently working with the RCMP at the site to determine the cause.
The RCMP said in a statement that both fires started within one hour of each other.
“I’m angry,” said Chief Keith Crow. “I don’t see any positive coming from this and it’s going to be tough.”
“It’s devastating. You know, we do have a devout Catholic following here in our community. I really don’t want to see any separations in a community.”
The fires come after hundreds of unmarked graves were discovered at sites of former residential schools in the country. However, no connection has been made relating the fires to the discoveries despite the RCMP treating the fires as suspicious.
However, Chief Crow believes that there is something bigger at play as churches in Okanagan were destroyed shortly before the Similkameen churches.
Sacred Heart Church and St. Gregory’s Church were destroyed by “suspicious” fires last week Monday.
“There’s got to be something more to it,” he said. “It’s not just coincidence.”
Between 1863 and 1998, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in residential “schools” throughout Canada.
It is not just BC churches catching fire as church fires have also begun appearing in Alberta.
A fire happened at the Siksika Nation Catholic Church earlier this week, and while no structural damage occurred, the RCMP are again treating the fire as suspicious.
A preliminary investigation indicates that the fire was deliberate.
Then a century-old church north of Edmonton also caught fire in Morinville, Alberta.
Premier Jason Kenney labeled the destruction of the church as a “hate-crime” and instructed Alberta’s Justice Minister to work with police to monitor and protect potential target sites.
“These attacks targeting Christian churches are attempts to destroy the spiritual sites that are important to people of faith across Alberta, including many Indigenous people,” said Kenney.
“This is appalling. This scale of violence, attacking a faith community is an attack on the constitutionally protected freedom of religion,”
Arthur Noskey, the Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta grand chief, echoed the premier’s instruction as he said he believes that churches should be protected.
“These are potential evidence sites,” he said. “We’ll be talking to our members directly and our elders as well.
“I know everybody’s hurting and the whole nation is in an uproar, but you know, for us, the truth is coming out.”
Noskey also believes that the former residential school sites should be protected as well.
Finally, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was disappointed in the church fires by saying, “destroying places of worship” is “not the way to go.”