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Similkameen Indian Bands ‘in disbelief and angered’ over burning of Catholic churches

Two churches in the valley burned down on June 26
Nothing remains after a fire consumed the Chopaka Church in the early hours of June 26. (Jen Louie - Facebook)

Following the burning of two Catholic churches in the Similkameen Valley, the Lower Similkameen Indian Band’s Chief and Council have expressed their shock and anger over the incidents.

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.

The LSIB, alongside the Upper Similkameen Indian Band where St. Anne’s Church was located, said in a press release they are in disbelief and angered over what happened.

“These churches represent place of worship for community members as well as gathering spaces for many for various celebrations and times of loss. It will be felt deeply for those that sought comfort and solace in the Church,” reads the release. “Please be respectful while the LSIB and USIB confirm what next steps will be taken with this loss and now recovery of such landmarks and historical gathering places known in the Similkameen Valley.”

READ MORE: RCMP investigating suspicious fires that burned 2 Similkameen churches

The Lady of Lourdes Chopaka Church was built in 1885 when the Great Northern Railway was being built and the church was relocated to its present location in Chopaka.

The LSIB noted that for some of their community members, their first memories are of gathering in that church.

“While we understand the grief and rage felt by others across Indian country to support the discovery of unmarked graves at Kamloops (T’kemlups) Indian Residential School on May 28, 2021. This is a symptom of the intergenerational trauma our survivors and intergenerational descendants are experiencing, there are supports to help deal with these emotions in a more healing way.

“While we cannot speculate that the person(s) responsible had any connections to our Communities of Upper and Lower Similkameen, all we can do now is be there to support others during this time of loss in community and the loss of our historical landmarks.”

The Lower Similkameen Indian Band will fully cooperate as the investigation unfolds.

“I’m very upset about the burning of all the churches. I sent my sympathies out to all my members who have been affected by these fires and I hope the investigation warrants an arrest,” Chief Keith Crow of the LSIB said in a statement.

The area is now under mop-up stages by the BC Wildfire Services to clean up the area and the band asks members to stay away for the time being until it is deemed safe.

The LSIB has asked for communities to respect one another while the investigation is underway.

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Brennan Phillips

About the Author: Brennan Phillips

Brennan was raised in the Okanagan and is thankful every day that he gets to live and work in one of the most beautiful places in Canada.
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