St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in the isolated James Bay community of Attawapiskat burned to the ground April 21.

Fire claims Attawapiskat church

By 
  • April 22, 2021

Another church in a First Nations community has been destroyed by fire.

St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in the isolated James Bay community of Attawapiskat burned to the ground April 21. There are mixed reports on the fire’s origins, with some reports it was an act of arson while others say there is no known cause determined yet.

Archbishop Terence Prendergast, administrator of the Hearst diocese, in a tweet said “Arson suspected; communication out & no details except building destroyed. Prayers for the people and their priest devastated by this loss.”

The fire comes just two weeks after the Easter Sunday blaze that destroyed St. Theresa Point Catholic Church on the Manitoba First Nation.

The wooden structure on the Attawapiskat Cree First Nation has been part of the community for about a century. It had been deemed structurally unsound and services have not been held in the church since the fall of 2019.

“Attawapiskat — I can’t believe our old church burned down today,” Rosie Koostachin posted to Facebook along with dozens of photos and video of the blaze. “I was asking our priest Napahean (Ralpheal), who I was standing with, he says it was about 104 years old. I am still in disbelief .. it’s gone, so many memories from this old church.”

Local MP Charlie Angus lamented the loss of “the beautiful stain glass windows that recognized the importance of the Truth and Reconciliation work. This artwork was created by the people of Attawapiskat to come to put their voice to some dark and troubled history.”

The community has seen its share of hardship over the years and was the focal point of the Idle No More movement when in 2013 its then chief, Theresa Spence, came to Ottawa and launched a hunger strike to focus attention on the housing crisis, contaminated drinking water and other issues in Attawapiskat and on First Nation reserves nationwide.

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