Two Catholic churches built more than a century ago on First Nations land in British Columbia’s southern Okanagan region were destroyed early Monday morning by fires that authorities are investigating as suspicious. The fires claimed first Sacred Heart Church, on the Penticton Indian Band’s territory, and then, roughly two hours later, St. Gregory’s Church, on lands belonging to the Osoyoos Indian Band. They were ignited on National Indigenous People’s Day. Both historic buildings burnt to the ground.
According to Penticton South Okanagan RCMP spokesman Sgt. Jason Bayda, an officer on patrol spotted fire coming from the Sacred Heart Church on Penticton Indian Band land at around 1:20 a.m. In a statement, Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokesman Sgt Jason 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.” “We are sensitive to the recent events, but won’t speculate on a motive,” he added. The two churches on the Penticton Indian Band reserve and the Osoyoos Indian Band reserve are less than 100km from Kamloops, where the remains of 215 children were found at a former boarding school in May. Thousands of indigenous children were sent to such schools in the 19th and 20th Centuries to be forcibly assimilated. The institutions were often run by the Roman Catholic Church.
National Indigenous Peoples Day has been observed in Canada since 1996. It has been a statutory territorial holiday in the Northwest Territories since 2001 and in Yukon since 2017.