Politicians, Indigenous leaders say burning churches not the way to get justice

·2 min read

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and some Indigenous leaders say arson and vandalism targeting churches is not the way to get justice following the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools.

“This is not the way to go. The destruction of places of worship is unacceptable and it must stop,” Trudeau said Wednesday.

“We must work together to right past wrongs."

Several Catholic churches have recently been vandalized or damaged in suspicious fires following the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential school sites in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said he understands people are angry but burning churches is not the way to proceed.

“I can understand the frustration, the anger, the hurt and the pain, there’s no question,” he said. “But to burn things down is not our way. Our way is to build relationships and come together.”

Early Wednesday morning, a historic Catholic church in Alberta was destroyed by fire and a Catholic church at a First Nation in Nova Scotia was damaged by flames.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney took to Twitter to condemn the blaze at St. John Baptiste Parish in Morinville, about 40 kilometres north of Edmonton, calling it a "violent hate crime targeting the Catholic community."

Four small Catholic churches on Indigenous lands in rural southern British Columbia have been destroyed by suspicious fires and a vacant former Anglican church in northwestern B.C. was recently damaged in what RCMP said could be arson.

The fires occurred less than a month after the discovery of what's believed to be the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves at a former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C.

The Cowessess First Nation in southeastern Saskatchewan also announced last week that ground-penetrating radar detected a potential 751 unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School.

And on Wednesday, the Lower Kootenay Band in B.C. said the same technology had located 182 human remains in unmarked graves at a former residential school near Cranbrook.

Some 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools, which operated for more than 120 years in Canada. More than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.

David Chartrand, vice-president of the Métis National Council, said many Indigenous people are Catholic and the destruction of churches can confound trauma they are already experiencing.

Chartrand, who is to be part of an Indigenous delegation visiting the Pope later this year, said earlier this week that while an apology is needed, the church continues to play an important role in the lives of some Indigenous people.

“There are customary processes that we've built into our culture around the churches."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2021.

— With files from Maan Alhmidi and Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

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