Another two Catholic Churches have been torched in Canada, as more Indigenous Nations have confirmed unmarked graves at residential school sites that likely hold the remains of Indigenous children.
At 3 a.m. on Wednesday, firefighters were called to a century-old Roman Catholic church just north of Edmonton after it lit up in flames. St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Morinville, Alberta, was basically destroyed in the fire.
"The fire was already fully involved from the basement when the first fire crews got here. They entered the building but there was already collapse occurring on the inside of the church so they backed out and it's been a defensive or exterior fire fight ever since," Morinville’s general manager of infrastructure, Iain Bushell, told CTV News.
RCMP have called the blaze “suspicious.”
A fire was also reported at 4:20 a.m. local time on Wednesday at the Catholic St. Kateri Tekakwitha Church in Sipekne'katik First Nation in Nova Scotia. RCMP are considering all fires across Canada while conducting investigations.
In less than two weeks, at least seven churches—all but one Catholic—have been found on fire across Canada. Catholic churches across the country have also been defaced, many strewn in blood red hand and foot prints. Some have had stuffed animals placed near the entrance, while one church in Saskatchewan had the words “we were children” painted across its doors.
The incidents occur amid new and ongoing reports of more than 1,000 unmarked graves of Indigenous peoples, mostly children, found at former residential school sites across Canada.
Last month, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation confirmed 215 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School—painful news that resulted in more Indigenous communities searching former residential schools in their territories. Saskatchewan and Manitoba have already announced unmarked graves, and last week, Cowessess First Nation confirmed that the remains of an estimated 751 Indigenous people are buried at Marieval Indian Residential School. Yet another site with 182 unmarked graves was announced this week following an investigation by the community of ʔaq'am, near Cranbrook, British Columbia, launched last year at the request of elders.
Residential schools were run by the Canadian government and churches to forcibly assimilate 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children, starting in the 1830s. Sweeping sexual and physical abuses were common and thousands of children died. According to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, about 4,100 students were killed at residential schools, but that number is likely to climb. Experts think it’s closer to 15,000. More than half of residential schools were run by Catholics, who are yet to apologize for their role.
The last residential school didn’t close until the late 1990s.
Across Canada, calls are mounting for the country and the Catholic Church to face criminal charges for crimes against humanity and genocide, and many life-long Catholics are considering leaving the church altogether.
Canada Day is also cancelled, at least for many.
Follow Anya Zoledziowski on Twitter.
Anyone experiencing distress or pain as a result of residential schools can call the Indian Residential School Survivors Society Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419). It’s available 24/7.