Two more Catholic churches on First Nations reserve land in B.C. have burned to the ground.
The churches, both in the Similkameen region, went up in flames early Saturday morning and both were destroyed completely, say Penticton RCMP.
RCMP say that just before 4 a.m. they received a call about a fire at St. Ann’s Church, which is located just east of Hedley on Upper Similkameen Indian Band land. Then at 4:45 a.m. they got a call about a fire at Chopaka Church on Lower Similkameen Indian Band land, just east of Keremeos.
The fires come on the heels of similar incidents on June 21, when two other Catholic churches in B.C. were burned to the ground. One was on Osoyoos Indian Band reserve and the other on the Penticton Indian Band reserve.
Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band was woken up early Saturday with the news that the Chopaka Church in the small community of Chopaka was ablaze.
“It’s a big impact,” he told Castanet News.
“We still have our Christian and Catholic followers, and they just had service a couple weeks ago at that church. They were very upset on Monday when the two churches were burnt in Osoyoos and Penticton. Now that these ones have burnt, it’s devastating to them.”
Crow said he believes the church, located about a half hour west of Osoyoos, was built some time around 1896.
St. Ann’s Church, also now in ashes, was built around 1910.
Crow says the investigations into both fires are in their early stages. RCMP say that both fires are “suspicious.”
“I really don’t condone the actions of whoever’s done this, but it is under investigation. We’ll have to wait and see,” Crow said.
A total of four Catholic churches on First Nations reserves have been burned to the ground in the month following an announcement from the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc that it had discovered remains of 215 children in unmarked graves at the nearby Kamloops Indian Residential School. The school was run by church missionaries.
On June 24, the Cowessess First Nation announced it had located 751 unmarked graves near a former residential school in Saskatchewan.
So far, officials have not announced any indication that the fires are connected to the discoveries at residential schools, but Crow mentioned the bodies when speaking about the latest two fires.
“We’re in for more hurt now. Look at what happened in Saskatchewan, Kamloops, and Williams Lake is doing their testing right now. When all the rest of the residential schools start doing testing, there’s just going to be more and more pain that comes out; the 215 was just a start.”
Crow said he knows people are hurting, and urged them to seek help.
“I really encourage people to reach out to somebody … I’ve offered myself up to anyone if they need to chat and want to have a talk. I feel for all of them,” Crow said.
Sgt. Jason Bayda of Penticton RCMP said investigators are “looking to determine any possible connection to the church fires in both Penticton and Oliver on June 21, 2021.”
“The investigations into the previous (two) fires and these two new fires are ongoing with no arrests or charges,” he said.
RCMP is asking anyone who may have dash cam footage or who was in the area of the churches around the time of the incidents to contact the Penticton RCMP Detachment at 250-492-4300.