Historic St. Ann's Catholic Church on the Hedley Native Reserve of the Upper Similkameen Band was destroyed by fire June 26, 2021. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said officers were investigating June 26 fires that destroyed the century-old St. Ann's and Our Lady of Lourdes Church on the Chopaka Native Reserve of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, near Osoyoos. CNS photo/Benjamin Madison, Victoria Daily

Arson suspected in First Nations church fires

By 
  • June 29, 2021

VANCOUVER -- Five suspicious fires have destroyed or damaged churches on British Columbia First Nations’ land in the weeks following the discovery of an unmarked gravesite at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in late May and mid-June on the Cowessess First Nation in southern Saskatchewan.

Two tiny Catholic churches were destroyed by fire June 26, one outside of Hedley and the other at Chopaka. They follow fires near Osoyoos and Oliver that levelled the Catholic churches there.

A former Anglican church on the Gitwangak First Nation in northern B.C. was also damaged by fire June 26. It was quickly extinguished with minimal damage.

Outside of B.C., RCMP are investigating a fire that appeared to be deliberately set at a Catholic church on the Siksika First Nation east of Calgary June 28.

Catholic churches in Saskatoon and Edmonton were also vandalized with red paint in late June.

Police are calling all the blazes “suspicious,” reports The B.C. Catholic

Penticton South Okanagan Similkameen RCMP said they are investigating the early morning fires that destroyed the century-old St. Ann’s Catholic Church on the Hedley Native Reserve of the Upper Similikemeen Band and Our Lady of Lourdes Church on the Chopaka Native Reserve, Lower Similkameen Indian Band, near Osoyoos.

On June 21 fires reduced to rubble two historic Catholic churches on First Nations’ land in the Okanagan area. Those fires, destroyed Sacred Heart Mission Church on Penticton Indian Band land and St. Gregory Mission Church on Osoyoos Indian Band land.

The latest fires occurred within an hour of each other, with Princeton RCMP receiving a call at 3:52 a.m. about the St. Ann’s fire and Keremeos RCMP being notified of the Chopaka fire at 4:45 a.m.

Police said the Chopaka fire spread to nearby brush but was quickly put out.

Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band told Castanet News the blaze has had a “big impact” on his community.

“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,” he said.

Sgt. Jason Bayda of the Penticton South Okanagan RCMP said police are treating both fires as suspicious and “are looking to determine any possible connection to the church fires in both Penticton and Oliver” on June 21. 

“The investigations into the previous fires and these two new fires are ongoing with no arrests or charges,” said Bayda.

Last modified on June 30, 2021

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