Dozens of Christian churches on indigenous lands in Canada have been torched and vandalized since unmarked graves of indigenous children near First Nation boarding schools were first discovered at the end of May.
Since then, more than 1,000 graves have been found near Native American boarding schools – many of which were run by the Catholic Church and were part of an abusive system that the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called ‘cultural genocide’ in 2015.
After the graves were found, about 12 churches were burned throughout the country between June 21 and July 9.
Most of the fires were set near the town of Penticton, British Columbia – about 40 miles north of Washington state – the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in multiple statements.
It is estimated that there have been about 45 acts of arson or vandalism to Canadian Christian churches or places of worship since June.
Flames engulf a Catholic church as firefighters work to extinguish the fire at St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Morinville, Alberta, Canada June 30
The St. Jean Baptiste Parish fire in Alberta on June 30 was the second major fire in less than a week
About a dozen Christian Churches on Indigenous lands in Canada have been torched in the last month
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said they’re investigating all of the blazes at Catholic churches in Canada as ‘suspicious’ and looking to see if they’re connected.
The fires started after the remains of 215 indigenous children were found in late May on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.
On June 24, the Cowessess First Nation said it had discovered the unmarked graves of an estimated 751 people near the site of the former Catholic-run Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.
Less than a week later – on June 30 – the Lower Kootenay Band said the aq’am First Nation discovered the remains of about 182 people near the site of the former Catholic-run St. Eugene’s Mission School near Cranbrook, British Columbia.
The discoveries coincided with the rash of church burnings, although police haven’t definitively connected the two.
Maryanne Klaassen looks inside the church doors covered in red paint at Grace Presbyterian Church on July 3. It’s among dozens of Canadian churches that have been vandalized
The fires and vandalism, like what’s shown here onwalls at Saint Bonaventure Catholic Church on July 3, began have the discovery of unmarked graves in schools that were run mostly by the Catholic church
Firefighters inspect the damage at the Roman Catholic St. Jean Baptiste church destroyed by fire in Morinville, Alberta on July 1
On June 21, the Sacred Heart Church on Penticton Indian Band land and St. Gregory’s Catholic Church on the Osoyoos Indian Band land, which are 25 miles apart, burned down within two hours of each, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Five days later – June 26 – St. Ann’s Catholic Church on Upper Similkameen Indian Band land and the Chopaka Catholic Church on Lower Similkameen Indian Band land were torched within two hours of each other.
The same night, the century-old abandoned St. Paul’s Anglican Church on Gitwangak First Nations land was set on fire, but the damage was minimal, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
On June 28 and June 30, a Catholic church on Siksika First Nation land near Calgary was set ablaze and the Catholic St. Jean Baptiste Church in Morinville, Alberta, burned to the ground, Royal Canadian Mounted Police said.
During the first week of July, there were Catholic church fires, including two on July 1, one on July 2 and one on July 4.
The July 2 blaze brought down the St. Columba Anglican in Tofino, British Columbia, which the Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokesperson Sgt. Chris Manseau said in a statement is a church that’s been in the community for over 100 years and ‘is of significant historical importance.
Father Fenando Genogaling stands in front of Red and Orange paint on the walls at St. Luke’s Catholic Church is seen on July 3 in Calgary
The community church is seen five years before the establishment of the Kuper Island Indian Residential School, which according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation operated from 1890-1975, on Penelakut Island, formerly known as Kuper Island, near Chemainus, British Columbia
Shoes placed on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature to honour hundreds of children recently discovered in unmarked graves on the sites of several former residential schools across Canada on July 2. The discovery of unmarked graves coincided with the fires in Christian churches
In addition to the dozen or so churches set on fire, many have been desecrated or vandalized
This is the aftermath of the fire of the Roman Catholic St. Jean Baptiste church destroyed by fire in Morinville, Alberta on July 1
‘Investigators are aware of the recent church fires occurring around the province, and will share information with them to determine if there is a link, however at this time there is nothing indicating so,’ he said.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are investigating two more fires at Catholic churches in Canada as ‘suspicious,’ after four churches on tribal lands burned down within one week.
There were multiple acts of vandalism and a small fire to a church in Alberta on July 9. A youth, whose age and name weren’t released, was arrested, police said.
That’s been the only arrest made in connection with any of the fires or vandalism that’s plagued Canadian churches over the last month.
Countersignal.com estimates there have been about 45 acts of arson or vandalism to Canadian Christian churches or places of worship since June.
Following the the discoveries of the graves, Preston McBride, a Dartmouth College scholar, predicts as 40,000 native children may have died from poor care at government-run boarding schools.
Siding is stripped off an exterior wall after a fire at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Church in Indian Brook June 30
Firefighters extinguish fire at the Roman Catholic St. Jean Baptiste church in Morinville, Alberta on July 1 but weren’t able to save it
Countersignal.com estimates there have been about 45 acts of arson or vandalism to Canadian Christian churches or places of worship since June, including what’s seen here on Saint Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Calgary
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a June 29 statement that the pope will meet separately at the Vatican with the representatives of Canada’s three biggest Indigenous groups — the First Nations, the Métis and the Inuit – in December.
‘Pope Francis is deeply committed to hearing directly from Indigenous Peoples, expressing his heartfelt closeness, addressing the impact of colonization and the role of the Church in the residential school system,’ bishops said in their statement.
The US has already launched a federal investigation.
US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a June 22 memo that her department will prepare a report that identifies federal boarding school facilities, map out the locations of known and possible student burial sites, and learn the identities and tribal affiliations of the children.
In her memo, Haaland – a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe and first Native American Cabinet Secretary – said most indigenous parents could not visit their children at these schools, where some were abused, killed and buried in unmarked graves.
How thousands of indigenous children died after being taken from their families and placed in boarding school across Canada in a policy that continued until the 1970s
By Harry Howard, History Correspondent for MailOnline
More than 150,000 indigenous children were forcibly taken from their families and placed in residential schools across Canada from 1863 until the 1970s.
The system was created by Christian churches and the Canadian government in the 19th century in an attempt to ‘assimilate’ and convert indigenous youngsters into Canadian society.
The children were forced to cut their long hair, banned from speaking their own languages and many were both physically and sexually abused.
An estimated 6,000 children are believed to have died at the schools. Yesterday’s protests -which saw the toppling of statues of both Queen Victoria and current Queen Elizabeth II – came after a series of discoveries of mass graves in recent weeks and months.
The latest find – on Wednesday – of 182 children’s bodies was made by an indigenous group using ground-penetrating radar at the former St. Eugene’s Mission School in Cranbrook, British Columbia.
In the US, a similar system of boarding schools, for Native Americans, existed with the aim of ‘civilising’ children into Western culture.
The US system was in place from the mid-19th century until the mid-20th century.
The Kamloops Indian Residential School in 1937. The school was established in 1890 and operated until 1969, its roll peaking at 500 during the 1950s
Did Queen Victoria or the Queen have any influence over the schools policy?
In 1867, the Canadian confederation of what had been separate British colonies in North America were established, creating a self-governing state within the British Empire.
Queen Victoria, who ruled from 1837 until her death in 1901, was on the throne when the residential school system was in full swing.
Victoria never visited Canada and – given her status as a constitutional monarch – had very limited influence over the Government in the UK and even less ability to question policies made in Canada.
The system was largely a result of Canada’s Indian Act, which was passed in 1876 under Canada’s Liberal Prime Minister Alexander MacKenzie, with no influence from the British Government.
However, prior to Confederation, it was the passing of the Gradual Civilisation Act – which required indigenous people to speak either English or French – which the system ultimately rested on.
Its aim was for indigenous people to ‘no longer be deemed an Indian’ and instead become a regular British subject.
An undated photo of indigenous children with their parents at the Kamloops residential school
In 1920, attendance at the residential schools became compulsory for indigenous children between the ages of 7 and 15.
When Dominion Status was formally granted to Canada in 1926, it was recognised as an ‘autonomous’ community within the British Empire.
In 1931, the Statue of Westminster confirmed its full legislative independence, although full sovereignty was not formally passed until 1982.
It meant that, while the indigenous school system continued, the British Government and Monarch were not involved in its maintenance.
It wasn’t until 1982 that the Canadian Constitution was amended to recognize the rights of ‘Indian, Inuit, and Métis peoples of Canada’.
Queen Elizabeth II, who remains Canada’s monarch, has a purely constitutional role both in the UK and in former British colonies where she remains head of state.
It means that, while statues of her have been toppled, she had no ability to influence Canada’s residential school system.
A statue of 18th century British explorer Captain James Cook was also targeted in the recent protests.
The Royal Navy captain famously made three voyages in the Pacific Ocean and to Australia, but did also spend time in Canada.
He was involved in the blockade of Louisbourg against French forces in 1758 and in 1761 made charts of the town and harbour at Halifax.
He also took part in the assault on the then French-held Quebec.