Another Catholic Church Set On Fire After Indigenous Remains Discovered
A church located on indigenous land in Gitwangak, British Columbia, has become one of a number to burn down following the discovery of remains on former residential school sites.
The fire at the more than 100-year-old St. Paul’s Anglican Church was reported at around 1.00am local time on Saturday, June 26, the same day two churches in the Similkameen region were found completely destroyed by blazes.
The local fire department in Gitwangak was able to quickly respond to the scene and extinguish the flames before they destroyed the building, with the elected chief of the Gitwangak Band expressing belief the fire was intentional.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) confirmed the church was vacant at the time of the fire and that no one was injured in the blaze, which is being investigated as ‘suspicious’. Chief Sandra Larin said the blaze destroyed the front steps of the church, but the main structure and its historic tower remained standing.
Less than a week earlier, on June 21, a Penticton RCMP officer spotted a fire coming from Sacred Heart Church on Green Mountain Road. Just a short while later, another 100-year-old building, St. Gregory’s Church on Nk’mip Road, was also reported to be ablaze.
Both buildings were said to have ‘burned to the ground’ as a result.
The series of fires comes after the remains of almost 1,000 indigenous people were discovered on the old grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia and the former Marieval (Cowessess) Residential School in Saskatchewan over the last month.
In the wake of the fires, Larin shared a video in which she addressed the community, condemning the act of arson and encouraging people to find more peaceful ways to deal with the tragedies of the uncovered remains.
She told Global News:
The challenge I have and that I put out to the community is … in direct response to the heightened emotions that people have with the world awakening to the residential school tragedies we’ve known as Indigenous people forever.
While I understand that hostility and needing to find a way to heal from it, that church was built by our ancestors in the late 1800s by the hands of our elders at the time with such a great sense of pride. There are many in this village that still have a strong, formal religious faith and they find healing from that.
Larin described the church as being ‘a sense of pride’ for many of the area’s elders, and noted that ‘begetting violence with violence isn’t going to get us anywhere’.
Volunteer firefighters remained at St. Paul’s Anglican Church overnight following the blaze in order to keep an eye on the scene, and additional security has now been posted to the area in an effort to prevent any further attacks.
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