DISCLAIMER: This story contains distressing details.
Two more Catholic churches on reserves in the southern interior of British Columbia burned down on Saturday morning.
Lower Similkameen Indian Band Chief Keith Crow said he received a call around 4 a.m. PT indicating that the Chopaka church was on fire. By the time he arrived about 30 minutes later, he had burned to the ground.
“I’m angry,” Crow said. “I don’t see any positive results from this and it’s going to be difficult.”
Crow said he subsequently received a call from the Upper Similkameen Indian Band, near Hedley, indicating that a church on that reserve had also burned down.
The Upper Similkameen Indian Band confirmed that St. Ann’s Church was destroyed overnight. A representative of the band said officials were currently working with the RCMP at the site of the fire.
CBC News has contacted the RCMP regarding the fires, but have yet to receive a response.
“It’s not just a coincidence”
Crow said the blaze in his community was still under investigation, but said the fact that it occurred as a result of late-night fires that destroyed two other Okanagan churches more early this week is suspect.
“There has to be something more,” he said. “It’s not just a coincidence.”
Police had previously said they considered the two Okanagan fires to be suspect, according to a written statement from the two RCMP detachments on Monday.
People in the community are very upset by the fire, Crow said.
Many of them are members of the Catholic Church, he said, and are still grappling with news from last month that a preliminary scan has uncovered the remains of 215 children buried at a former Kamloops residential school. , in British Columbia, about 200 kilometers. north of Hedley.
Earlier this week, the Cowessess First Nation said a preliminary scan uncovered hundreds of unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, previously told CBC News that there were “mixed emotions” about the Catholic Church among members of the Penticton Indian Band.
Phillip said some members of the community have “an intense hatred for the Catholic Church when it comes to the residential school experience.”
Crow said he was part of a caravan of leaders, residential school survivors, families and elders who will travel from Penticton to Kamloops on Saturday.
Hundreds of people are scheduled to take part in the caravan, he said, showing the unity of the people across the region.
“I feel great today for doing this, but I am upset by the fire in the church last night,” he said.
The convoy was organized by the Syilx Okanagan Nation.
Support is available for anyone affected by their residential school experience and for those triggered by the latest reports.
A national residential school crisis line has been established to provide support to former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.