The residential school system was set up by the Canadian federal government, beginning in the 1870s, as a means of forcibly assimilating indigenous children and stripping them of familial and cultural ties. The Catholic Church oversaw more than two-thirds of the schools. The last remaining federally-run residential school closed in 1996.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a Canadian body set up to investigate abuses in the schools, at least 4,100 children died from “disease or accident” at the schools. The locations of many cemeteries could fade from memory over time due to lack of regulation and documentation, and individual grave markers could have been moved or succumbed to the elements.
More than 750 unmarked graves were discovered June 24 at the site of a former residential school on Cowessess First Nation land in Saskatchewan. Leaders emphasized that the discovery was of unmarked graves, and not a “mass gravesite.”
Vandalism of churches has continued apace in Canada since the discoveries, likely due to anger at the Church for its role in the residential school system.
From June 21 through June 26, four Catholic churches located on tribal lands in British Columbia burned to the ground under suspicious circumstances. Two churches were on reserves in the Similkameen Valley, and two churches were on Indigenous land in the southern Okanagan.
Chief Keith Crow, of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, said St. Ann’s Church on the Chuchuwayha reserve in Hedley and the Lower Similkameen Indian Band church, the Chopaka Church, was destroyed by fire at about 4 a.m. “Some of our members attend these churches. They just had a service a couple of weeks ago,” Crow says Catholic community members were devastated by the fires and by the discovery of the graves.
Two other Catholic churches on Indigenous land — the Sacred Heart Church and St. Gregory’s Church – were burned in the southern Okanagan. The wooden churches were each at least 100 years old and are the responsibility of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nelson.
Father Thomas Kakkaniyil, the priest in charge of St. Gregory’s Church said “Somebody from outside came and burned it, as I understand it. It was done on the Osoyoos First Nation land but not by those people. It was somebody else.”
An Anglican church was also found to be on fire on June 26, but the fire was extinguished and caused only minor damage.
On Wednesday, June 30, at 3 AM, firefighters responded to a fire at St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Morinville, Alberta. The church was over 100 years old and the fire consumed it.
Also on Wednesday, a fire was reported and extinguished before it caused damage to St. Kateri Tekakwitha church on Sipekne’katik First Nation land in Nova Scotia. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are investigating both cases.
On June 24 in Mississauga, Ontario, a church was spray painted with anti-Catholic rhetoric. The graffiti was removed shortly after it was discovered.
And on June 26, a statue of St. John Paul II at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Edmonton was vandalized with red spray paint. The vandal or vandals used the paint to make red handprints on the statue.
(Via Catholic News Agency and Canadian news sources)