An Upper Similkameen Indian Band Elder who survived Kamloops residential school says she is devastated to see the church she loved and her ancestors built burned to the ground near Hedley.
Elder Carrie Allison is 90 years old and has lived in the Similkameen Valley for over 70 of those years.
Allison’s late husband Slim Allison, a former chief, passed away in 2002. Her son Michael Allison is now a councillor with the Upper Similkameen Indian Band.
Born in Merritt, she went to the Kamloops Indian Residential School when she was eight years old for three years.
Allison said she is “very disappointed” with what happened to Saint Ann’s Church — a historical landmark built in 1908.
“There have been many happy and joyful times with marriages from all over the world in that church, and for the couple that was to marry there next week, I am devastated,” she said.
Four historic Catholic churches have been burned to the ground on band lands in the Okanagan and Similkameen.
“Our ancestors had to go to Penticton on horse and wagon to haul the lumber to build that church and would walk for miles to come to church rain or shine because it meant so much to them,” she said.
“When all the people that were taking care of the church had passed away, somebody had to take over, so I did. I think of all our ancestors that helped to build Saint Ann’s looking over us and watching all their hard work and the place they cherished, burn to the ground.”
Allison wants to send a message to whoever destroyed the church.
“You must have no feelings or respect for elders or ancestors. A lot of us suffered, but this is not how we do things, and this is not our way. It makes me so sick, sad, and I can only hope I do not know you. I feel sorry for you, and I hope you’re satisfied. When your hurt turns to rage, it is not healthy for you or your community.”
USIB chief and council are also saddened by the sudden loss of two historical churches in the Lower and Upper Similkameen.
“We along with Lower Similkameen Indian Band are in disbelief of the complete disregard for our elders and ancestors and we are fully cooperating and helping with this investigation,” said Chief Bonnie Jacobsen.
“Like LSIB, we understand the anger surrounding residential schools across our country, but we implore all of you to reach out for supports and help each other to express your anger and emotions in a different way. Putting our lands, wildlife, and members at risk is not the way.”
The Lady of Lourdes Chopaka Church burned down around 3 a.m. on June 26, around the same time as the St. Anne’s Church at Chuchuwayha outside of Hedley burned.
Jacobsen called the series of fires a huge loss for the entire Okanagan-Similkameen community, which includes some who follow Catholic and Christian faiths.
“As always, we are resilient people, and our community has and will continue to join hands together after this tragedy and we will come out stronger despite these events.”
Two churches on Penticton and Osoyoos band land were reduced to rubble and ash in the early hours of June 21.
The Sacred Hearts church on Penticton Indian Band (PIB) land burned to the ground at 1:30 a.m. Monday morning. Less than two hours later, the church on Osoyoos Indian Band land in Oliver burned to its foundation.
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