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Suspicious fires at churches in western Canada

BUILDING FIRE

Jackan | Shutterstock

John Burger - published on 06/29/21 - updated on 06/29/21

Investigations continue, as blazes possibly related to discoveries of unmarked graves at former indigenous schools.

A Catholic church in the Province of Alberta seems to be the latest in a string of attacks on churches in western Canada. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police east of Calgary said that they are investigating a fire that appeared to have been deliberately set Monday at the church, which is on the land of the Siksika indigenous people. 

Elsewhere, the RCMP in New Hazelton in northwestern British Columbia said a fire was reported early Saturday morning on the Gitwangak First Nation land. It was an abandoned Anglican church, and the fire was quickly extinguished with minimal damage and no injuries, the National Post reported. An investigation is underway. 

In southern British Columbia, four Catholic churches — two near Osoyoos and Oliver, one outside Hedley, and the other at Chopaka — were destroyed by blazes between June 21 and June 26.

Catholic churches in Saskatoon and Edmonton were also vandalized with red paint in the past week.

The fires and vandalism come in the wake of discoveries of what’s believed to be the remains of children in unmarked graves at former residential schools in Kamloops, B.C., and in southeastern Saskatchewan.

Many of the residential schools, in a system set up by the Canadian government, were run by Catholic religious orders. Leaders of native peoples in Canada say the schools were used to forcibly assimilate Indigenous people. Some say that children were forced to convert to Christianity and leave behind their native language and culture. There have been calls, including from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for Pope Francis to make a formal apology. 

On Friday, the Catholic Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which operated 48 residential schools, including the two former schools where unmarked graves of indigenous children were found, said it would release all documents in its possession, the Guardian reported. 

On Tuesday, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops announced that a delegation of Indigenous people will visit Pope Francis in Rome from December 17-20 to “foster meaningful encounters of dialogue and healing.”

“Pope Francis is deeply committed to hearing directly from Indigenous Peoples, expressing his heartfelt closeness, addressing the impact of colonization and the role of the Church in the residential school system, in the hopes of responding to the suffering of Indigenous Peoples and the ongoing effects of intergenerational trauma, a statement from the Conference said. “The Bishops of Canada are deeply appreciative of the Holy Father’s spirit of openness in generously extending an invitation for personal encounters with each of the three distinct groups of delegates – First Nations, Métis and Inuit – as well as a final audience with all delegates together on 20 December 2021.”

The delegation will include Elders and “Knowledge Keepers,” people who attended residential schools and youth from across the country, accompanied by a small group of Bishops and Indigenous leaders.

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