Four Catholic churches located in indigenous territory in Canada have been damaged by fires that officials are calling “suspicious” in nature as the Catholic Church has faced scrutiny since the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves of indigenous children.
St. Ann's Church and the Chopaka Church, both located in British Columbia, burned to the ground on Saturday, according to The Vancouver Sun. The incidents happened less than an hour between each other.
Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band told the media that both churches were destroyed by fires at about 4 a.m.
The chief said the fires are suspicious and "possibly" linked to the fires that destroyed Sacred Heart Church and St. Gregory's Church in British Columbia's South Okanagan last Monday on the Canadian observance of National Indigenous People's Day.
"I'm angry," Crow was quoted as saying by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. "I don't see any positive coming from this and it's going to be tough."
Crow told The Vancouver Sun that the fires were “heartbreaking,” as members of his tribe belonged to the churches.
“Luckily, no one was injured and the fire here was contained before it spread to any of the neighbouring homes,” said Crow. “If you’re hurting at this time, please reach out to somebody and make the call. There is a lot of upset people.”
Sgt. Jason Bayda with Penticton South Royal Canadian Mounted Police told CBC on Saturday that the investigations into the fires are ongoing. He confirmed that the fires are suspicious but no arrests or charges have been made so far.
In May, the remains of 215 children were found buried under an area on which Kamloops Indian Residential School stood in British Columbia, which closed in 1978.
The residential school, affiliated with the Catholic Church, was part of a nationwide system overseen by government and religious authorities that sought to assimilate the indigenous communities of Canada.
Later in the week, an additional 751 unmarked graves were located near the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, which had been under Catholic Church administration.
The findings prompted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to call upon Pope Francis to visit the country and offer an official apology for the disturbing discoveries.
“I have spoken personally directly with His Holiness Pope Francis to press upon him how important it is not just that he makes an apology but that he makes an apology to indigenous Canadians on Canadian soil,” stated Trudeau to reporters.
“I know that the Catholic Church leadership is looking and very actively engaged in what next steps can be taken.”
For its part, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a formal apology and committed to “walking side by side with Indigenous Peoples in the present, seeking greater healing and reconciliation for the future.”
“The news of the recent discovery is shocking. It rekindles trauma in numerous communities across this land. Honouring the dignity of the lost little ones demands that the truth be brought to light,” stated the CCCB.
“We lift up prayers to the Lord for the children who have lost their lives and pledge our close accompaniment of Indigenous families and communities.”