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 215 unidentified graves near the old Kamloops Indian Residential School.
The Vancouver Sun is reporting that Penticton South Okanagan RCMP spokesman Sgt. Jason Bayda, said an officer on patrol spotted fire coming from the Sacred Heart Church on Penticton Indian Band land at around 1:20 a.m, on Monday.
Sgt. Bayda said that less than two hours later, at about 3:10 a.m., Oliver RCMP and the Oliver Fire Department were notified that St. Gregory’s Church on Osoyoos Indian Band land was ablaze. The Osoyoos Indian Band land is just north of the Washington state border.
“Both churches burned to the ground and police are treating the fires as suspicious,” Bayda said.
“Should our investigations deem these fires as arson, the RCMP will be looking at all possible motives and allow the facts and evidence to direct our investigative action,” Sgt. Jason Bayda said in the statement. “We are sensitive to the recent events, but won’t speculate on a motive.”
It has been less than a month since the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation in British Columbia announced the discovery of what are believed to be the remains of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
The residential school operated between 1890 and 1969 when the federal government took over operations from the Catholic Church and operated it as a day school until it closed in 1978. according to CP24 News.
Chief Greg Gabriel of the Penticton Indian Band said the Sacred Heart Church was a community fixture that hosted weddings and funerals. He was awakened at 2 a.m. when a staff member called about the fire.
“I quickly rushed down to the church site and by the time I got there it was already gone. It was a very old church and didn’t take very much time for it to completely burn down,” he said.