Two churches in Canada caught fire on Wednesday amid papal apologies for abuse at indigenous residential schools, where hundreds of unnamed graves were recently discovered, including 182 at a third burial site.
Police said the fires at Morinville Church north of Edmonton, Alberta, and St. Kateri Tekakwitha Church in the Sipekne’katik First Nation near Halifax in Nova Scotia are being investigated as possible arson.
“We are investigating him as a suspect,” Corporal Sheldon Robb of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police told AFP, speaking about the fire that engulfed the Morinville church.
Corporal Chris Marshall of the Nova Scotia RCMP said the same about the fire that severely damaged St. Kateri Tekakwitha Church.
At a press conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the “horrific discoveries” of nameless graves of children have forced Canadians “to reflect on the historical and ongoing injustices indigenous peoples have faced.”
He urged everyone to participate in reconciliation, while denouncing the vandalism and burning of churches across the country.
“The destruction of places of worship is not acceptable and must stop,” he said. “We must work together to write down the mistakes of the past. Everyone has a role to play.”
The fires bring to eight the number of churches across Canada destroyed or damaged by suspicious fires, most of them in indigenous communities, in recent days.
Several others were vandalized, including with red paint.
Also Wednesday, the Lower Kootenay Band said experts using ground penetrating radar maps have located what are believed to be the remains of 182 pupils ages seven to 15 at the former St Eugene’s Mission School near Cranbrook, British columbia
The grim event follows the discovery of the remains of 215 children in unnamed graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia in May and 751 more unnamed graves at another school in Marieval in Saskatchewan last week.
There have also been more searches for cemeteries across Canada.
The Lower Kootenay Band said a search was launched last year at the Cranbrook site, where the Catholic Church operated a school on behalf of the federal government from 1912 to the early 1970s.
Some of the graves were as shallow as three to four feet deep, he said.
They are believed to be the remains of gang members from the Ktunaxa nation, which includes the Lower Kootenay and other neighboring indigenous communities.
– ‘cultural genocide’ –
No direct link has been officially established between the church fires and the discovery of the nameless graves.
But speculation is rampant, amid intense anger and sadness sparked by the burial findings.
“We absolutely recognize the profound effect that the anonymous tomb discoveries have had on First Nations people, and researchers will take that into account,” Marshall said.
The damaged churches were built a century ago, coinciding with the opening of boarding schools established by the government and run by the Catholic Church to assimilate indigenous peoples into the mainstream.
Until the 1990s, some 150,000 Indian, Inuit and Metis youth were forcibly enrolled in 139 of these schools, where students were physically and sexually abused by principals and teachers who stripped them of their culture and language.
More than 4,000 died from illness and neglect in schools, according to a commission of inquiry that concluded that Canada had committed “cultural genocide.”
Trudeau apologized last Friday for the “harmful government policy” and joined a chorus of calls by indigenous leaders for Pope Francis to come to Canada to apologize for the abuses in schools.
The flag atop parliament has been lowered to commemorate the students’ deaths and will remain at half-staff for Canada’s national day on July 1, he said.
Meanwhile, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), which represents 74 tribes in Saskatchewan, lobbied the church to fulfill its promise to provide Canadian $ 25 million (US $ 20 million) in compensation to alumni.
So far, the church has raised and delivered a measly C $ 34,650, it said in a statement.
“For Catholics to raise millions to build multiple multi-million dollar cathedrals and raise only $ 34,650 or $ 0.30 per survivor is disgraceful,” FSIN said in a statement.
FSIN bosses also renewed requests for “a proper (papal) apology” to the students, who are referred to as survivors of residential schools in Canada.
Canada’s Catholic bishops organization said a delegation of indigenous peoples, including alumni of residential schools, was invited to travel to the Vatican in December to meet with Pope Francis.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)