At least 9 Canadian churches set ablaze amid indigenous anger over residential schools

At least 9 Canadian churches set ablaze amid indigenous anger over residential schools

By Peter Hasson

At least nine Catholic and Anglican churches across Canada have gone up in flames amid a backlash over the country’s use of church-run residential schools to forcibly assimilate indigenous children from the late 19th century until the 1970s.

The majority of the church fires occurred on indigenous First Nations land. The recent discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential schools within the last month appear to have made churches a target.

Historically, more than 150,000 First Nations children were required to attend state-funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into Canadian society. They were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. Many were beaten and verbally abused, and up to 6,000 are said to have died.

While it’s unclear how the children buried in the unmarked graves died, the discovery of their remains has ignited anger among First Nations communities across the country.

The majority of the church fires have targeted Catholic churches.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, located in Penticton Indian Band in British Columbia, was destroyed in fire on June 21. A few hours later that same morning, St. Gregory Catholic Church, which sits on Osoyoos Indian Band lands, also in British Columbia, was set ablaze.

On June 26, two more Catholic churches on indigenous land were burned to the ground: Our Lady of Lourdes Chopaka and St. Ann’s Church.

That same day, St. Paul, an Anglican church in British Columbia, was set on fire. The church survived that fire with only minor damage, but a second blaze on July 1 destroyed the building.

Authorities were called to a blaze at Siksika First Nation Catholic Church on June 28, but were able to extinguish the fire before it caused major structural damage.

St. Jean Baptiste Paris Church burned to the ground on June 30. Videos posted online showed the Alberta church engulfed in flames.

Authorities responded to a fire at St. Patrick Co-Cathedral on July 1 in Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories. The church sustained minor structural damage. The diocese said the fire was caused by an incendiary device thrown into the church.

Firefighters were called to St. Columba, an Anglican church in British Columbia, in the early morning hours of July 2. They were able to douse the blaze before the church sustained any major damage.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other political leaders, as well as First Nation leaders, have condemned the spate of fires.

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