Indigenous leaders condemn Catholic church fires
A beacon in the centre of Morinville, AB, set ablaze.
The century old church north of Edmonton burnt to the ground in what the RCMP described as a “suspicious fire.”
St. Jean Baptiste Church is just one of many suspicious church fires reported since the remains of more than 1,500 people were found at former residential school sites.
On Sipekne’katik First Nation, a Mi’kmaq band in Nova Scotia, fire crews were able to put out a suspicious fire at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Church before the building was fully engulfed in flames. The purposely set fire only destroying the exterior wall.
But other church fires spread quickly, taking away peoples’ places of worship and historic landmarks.
Jenn Allan-Riley is a Sixties Scoop survivor and assistant Pentecostal minister at Living Waters Church in Hampton, NB. She called a press conference, along with another residential school survivor Jessie Malcolm, to call for an end to the fires.
“Burning down churches is not in solidarity with us Indigenous people. We do not destroy people’s places of worship.”
National Chief Perry Bellegarde echoed Allan-Riley’s condemnation of the church burnings, “I can understand the frustration, the anger and the hurt and the pain,” Bellegarde told Global News. “But to burn things down is not our way. Our way is to build relationships and come together.”
Former Elsipogtog chief, Susan Levi-Peters, told Context that arson is completely unacceptable, as the fires could also damage important historic records for Indigenous communities. Records that could be useful to identify the remains found in the unmarked graves.
Jenn Allan-Riley agrees and said “burning churches is not the way forward. As Indigenous we do not spread hate. How we got here was a result of hate. Someone hated us Indigenous and felt the need to destroy us and our culture. 150 years later we are still having religious wars with each other.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined Indigenous leaders and provincial officials in condemning what are widely suspected to be acts of arson.
“I can’t help but think that burning down churches is actually depriving people who are in need of grieving and healing and mourning from places where they can grieve and reflect and look for support.”
A healing ceremony at the site of a former residential school in B.C. saw hundreds come together.