Churches Burn as Canada laments the discovery of unmarked Native graves

On the weekend of June 26, the St. Anne's Church in Upper Similkameen Indian Band was set on fire. This was one of the four incidents in the last month in which a catholic church was caught on fire in a First Nation territory in Canada. Made of wood and over a century old, the local fire department couldn't do anything to save the structure. 

St. Anne's Church and the Chopaka Church are the two churches that recently suffered destruction in what local authorities call "a possible arson." Both churches, more than 100-years old, are located in the Upper and Lower Similkameen Indian Band near Hedley, British Columbia.

The increasing number of attacks on churches across Canada comes in the wake of the discovery of more than 700 unmarked graves. The unmarked graves were located near Marieval Indian Residential School. As Canada comes face to face with its history marred with forced indoctrination and systemic abuse of the indigenous population under the Catholic church, people turn to the churches' buildings to express their disdain and hatred.

Churches were also vandalized with red and orange paint across Alberta. Orange is associated with the residential schools, and red is a possible reference to the victims.

Many indigenous people identify as Christians, with close to a million calling themselves Catholics. The substantial number of Indigenous Catholics is a result of involuntary indoctrination. "Because that was the only way our people could pray," according to Amelia McComber. McComber, an indigenous theologian, has seen the rift unfolding in these Catholic communities.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with indigenous leaders, has denounced the attacks against the churches. A catholic, Trudeau calls the action "understandable" but said that the burning and vandalizing of the churches deprives the community of "places where they can grieve and reflect and look for support."

For many indigenous people, the churches present antithetical emotions. The indigenous people built these churches as a place of spirituality and worship. But it is also the place where "innocent souls were sacrificed for colonialism," McComber said.

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