At least nine Catholic and Anglican churches across Canada have caught fire amid a backlash against the country’s use of church-run residential schools to forcibly assimilate Indigenous children from the late 19th century to the 1970s.
The majority of church fires have occurred on Indigenous First Nations lands. Recent discoveries of hundreds of anonymous graves in former residential schools over the past month appear to have made churches a target.
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Historically, over 150,000 First Nations children had to attend publicly funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into Canadian society. They were forced to convert to Christianity and were not allowed to speak their mother tongue. Many have been beaten and verbally assaulted, and up to 6,000 are believed to have died.
While it is not known how the children buried in the unnamed graves died, the discovery of their remains has ignited anger among First Nations communities across the country.
The majority of church fires have targeted Catholic churches.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church, located in the Penticton Indian Band in British Columbia, was destroyed by fire on June 21. Hours later that same morning, St. Gregory Catholic Church, located on Osoyoos Indian Band lands, also in British Columbia, was set ablaze.
On June 26, two other Catholic churches on indigenous lands were burnt down: the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes Chopaka and the Church of St. Anne.
That same day, St. Paul, an Anglican church in British Columbia, was set on fire. The church survived this fire with only minor damage, but a second fire on July 1 destroyed the building.
Authorities were called in to burn down the Siksika First Nation Catholic Church on June 28, but were able to extinguish the blaze before it caused major structural damage.
The Saint-Jean-Baptiste church in Paris burnt down on June 30. Videos published online showed the Alberta church in flames.
Authorities responded to a fire at St. Patrick’s Co-Cathedral on July 1 in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. The church suffered minor structural damage. The diocese said the fire was caused by an incendiary device thrown into the church.
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Firefighters were called to St. Columba, an Anglican church in British Columbia, in the wee hours of July 2. They were able to put out the fire before the church suffered significant damage.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other political leaders, as well as First Nations leaders, have condemned the spate of fires.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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