Calgary Herald

Bellegarde pleads for end to church fires

Suspect blazes in Alberta, B.C., Nova Scotia

- KELLY GERALDINE MALONE

The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations says he understand­s the rage, frustratio­n and pain brought on by the discovery of unmarked graves at former residentia­l schools, but funnelling that anguish into burning down churches will not bring justice.

“To burn things down is not our way,” Perry Bellegarde said Wednesday. “Our way is to build relationsh­ips and come together.”

Several Catholic churches have recently been vandalized or damaged in fires following the discovery of unmarked graves at former residentia­l school sites in British Columbia and Saskatchew­an.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined the national chief and other Indigenous leaders in echoing the call for an end to the fires.

“This is not the way to go. The destructio­n of places of worship is unacceptab­le and it must stop,” Trudeau said.

“We must work together to right past wrongs.”

Early Wednesday, a historic Catholic church in Alberta was destroyed by fire and a Catholic church at a First Nation in Nova Scotia was damaged by flames.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney took to Twitter to condemn the blaze at St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Morinville, about 40 kilometres north of Edmonton, calling it a “violent hate crime targeting the Catholic community.”

Audrey Poitras, president of the Metis Nation of Alberta, said the town and church have close relationsh­ips with the Metis community.

“Some of our citizens were married there. Some left shoes on the steps to commemorat­e the children whose lives were lost at residentia­l schools,” Poitras said.

“Violence and destructio­n are not the way forward during these difficult times.”

Four small Catholic churches on Indigenous lands in southern British Columbia were also destroyed by suspicious fires and a vacant former Anglican church in northweste­rn B.C. was recently damaged in what RCMP said could be arson.

The fires occurred less than a month after the discovery of what's believed to be the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves at a former residentia­l school site in Kamloops, B.C.

The Cowessess First Nation in southeaste­rn Saskatchew­an announced last week that ground-penetratin­g radar detected a potential 751 unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residentia­l School.

And on Wednesday, the Lower Kootenay Band in B.C. said the same technology had located the remains of 182 people in unmarked graves near the former residentia­l school St. Eugene's Mission School.

Some 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residentia­l schools, which operated for more than 120 years in Canada.

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