Catholic Churches on Indigenous Land Burn to the Ground

Arson suspected following discovery of graves at former Catholic-run residential school in Canada
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 22, 2021 12:00 PM CDT
Catholic Churches on Indigenous Land Burn to the Ground
Firefighters' jackets hang on the fence of the burned-out remnants of Sacred Heart Church on the Penticton Indian Reserve, near Penticton, British Columbia, on Monday.   (James Miller/Penticton Herald via AP)

Two century-old Catholic churches on Indigenous land in southern British Columbia burned to the ground on Monday, Canada's National Indigenous Peoples' Day—roughly a month after the discovery of the unmarked graves of 215 children at the former Catholic-run Kamloops Indian Residential School. Flames were reported at Sacred Heart Church on land of the Penticton Indian Band shortly after 1am, per the Vancouver Sun. About two hours later, another fire was reported 25 miles away at St. Gregory's Church on Osoyoos Indian Band land just north of the Washington state border. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police describe the fires, which destroyed both churches operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nelson, as suspicious. Oliver Fire Chief Bob Graham says early indications suggest arson with "a liquid accelerant" at St. Gregory's, per the CBC.

The Rev. Thomas Kakkaniyil says the church had security as it hosted its first in-person service in more than a year on Sunday, but not overnight. He speculates the local Indigenous population was not involved. "It was done on the Osoyoos First Nation land but not by those people," he tells the Sun. The Penticton Indian Band says both bands are "in disbelief and anger over these occurrences as these places of worship provided service to members." "We are sensitive to the recent events, but won’t speculate on a motive," RCMP Sgt. Jason Bayda tells the Sun, which reports most of BC's 28 residential schools were operated by the Catholic Church, with funding from the federal government. The government apologized in 2008, but the church has yet to do so, per the Washington Post. Bayda says police will look at "all possible motives" if arson is confirmed. (More fires stories.)

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