As Canada confronts its abusive and racist past, two more Catholic Churches in an indigenous area in the western part of the country have been set on fire. Police said the fires were suspicious and were being investigated. However, it is not known by whom and for what purpose the fires were started. However, the locals declared that they were very angry and their search for dead children’s graves in churches was interrupted. In the country, the graves of nearly 1,000 indigenous children have been discovered in churchyards since last month.
Canadian authorities announced that they responded to the early morning fires at St Ann’s Church on Upper Similkameen Indian Group territory in the province of British Colombia and Chopaka Church on Lower Similkameen Indian Union territory. Both churches, made of wood and more than 100 years old, were burnt to ashes.
However, the fires came about a week after the other two churches were destroyed and amid growing anger against the church’s role in Canada’s campaign to forcibly assimilate the indigenous population.
In recent weeks, the country has been rocked by the discovery of nearly a thousand unmarked graves at the sites of church-run boarding schools where indigenous children were forcibly converted to Christianity and stripped of their original names, traditions and language.
The Catholic Church was then faced with demands for greater transparency over its role in schools and a call for the Pope to apologize.
After the fires this weekend, the Lower Similkameen Indian Council announced that they “did not believe” and were “indignant” in the fires: “These events will be deeply felt to those who seek their lost roots in the church. This is a symptom of the intergenerational trauma we have been through, with these feelings being more healed. There are supports to help cope with it.”
On the other hand, Mary Immaculate Catholic Missionary Oblates, who previously operated 48 schools, including two old schools, where hundreds of graves were found, said that it will publish all the documents it has on the genocide.
Keith Crow, chief of Lower Similkameen, said the fires were “devastating” for Catholics in the community, who held a service at the church two weeks ago. However, he warned that indigenous communities are suffering more: “Our communities continue to look for burials in old churches. As the rest of the boarding schools begin to be explored, the resulting pain will increase; 215 was just the beginning.”
However, weeks ago the discovery of the remains of 215 indigenous children at the site of another boarding school in Kamloops, British Columbia province, has forced Canadians to confront the legacy of an abusive and assimilationist system.
Between 1831 and 1996, Canada’s boarding school system forcibly separated approximately 150,000 indigenous children from their families. In 2015, they were malnourished and subjected to physical and sexual abuse in what the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide.”
The Canadian federal government apologized for the system in 2008. The Roman Catholic Church, which makes up most of the schools, did not apologize. Earlier this month, Pope Francis said he was very sorry, but survivors said the Pope was not sincere.