Lower Similkameen Indian Band Chief Keith Crow confirmed to Global News Saturday morning that a church in the Hedley community has burned down, as has another in the Chopaka border community.
Hedley is about an hour’s drive southwest of Penticton, while Chopaka is about a half hour west of Osoyoos.
2 churches on reserve land destroyed by fire in the South Okanagan
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“I received a phone call early this morning from one of our members telling me that our church was on fire in Chopaka,” Crow told Global News.
“During that phone call, I received another phone call from the Upper Similkameen Indian Band indicating that their church had also been burnt down. “
The incident follows a fire in two other churches in the South Okanagan on reserve land early Monday.
Crow said he witnessed a scene this morning and the church was razed to the ground.
“It’s in ashes,” he said.
Evidence of an accelerator found at the scene of a fire at a church in the South Okanagan.
“Of course it’s suspicious,” Crow added when asked about the fire.
“Two more fires, two more churches in one night. I can’t wait to see what they will come up with.
Asked about the community’s reaction to Saturday’s news, Crow called it heartbreaking.
“We still have people who worship and practice their religion. They had service there a few weeks ago, ”Crow said.
“I don’t endorse that at all. I support all of my members, regardless of their religion and beliefs. I hope that in the long run these individuals will get caught. This is unacceptable. “
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Crow was also asked about links and possible anger towards the Catholic Church following the discovery of anonymous graves at former Kamloops residential schools last month, and now this week in Saskatchewan.
“This is where it all started,” Crow said. “This is nothing new to us, funerals in Kamloops; we’ve always heard about it, we’ve always talked about it.
“I’m glad they’ve finally been discovered. But on the other side, it’s heartbreaking at the same time. The 215 who were there. . . it is devastating.
Crow said his band records indicate that there were a few LSIB members who did not return from the old Kamloops residential school.
“Honestly, I don’t know what to say. It’s heartbreaking, ”Crow said. “And I’m concerned about the reaction of other communities across Canada who have had residential schools on their land, within their nations.
“I think most communities have a small church and some people still practice, and I support them. “
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Crow said Hedley’s church burned down around 3 a.m., while Chopaka’s was closer to 4 a.m.
The burnt down churches arrived as Crow and other area First Nations planned to gather in Kamloops on Saturday afternoon to honor residential school survivors and unmarked graves.
It is believed that the assembly will include several First Nations and could reach well over 100 people.
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Crow also spoke about how happy he was that the church fires did not lead to a potential wildfire, given the drought in the area, as well as the heat wave that is burning the area.
“Honestly, I was very happy to have another advisor there and a few other people,” Crow said, adding that they were fortunate to have calm weather conditions. “We had rakes and shovels and we put a firebreak where the fire started to spread.
“I have to be a firefighter this morning.
Crow said BC Wildfire had arrived and cleaned up, which he was grateful for. He also mentioned that a power line had fallen causing sparks, and that FortisBC had to be contacted to shut off the power.
“Once that was put out, we were able to get in there and help,” Crow said, “put out a few of those little point fires and grass fires that were starting to move. “