Two churches in the Similkameen Valley burned down overnight on June 26.
The Chopaka Church south of Keremeos and the Chuchuwayha Church outside of Hedley were both destroyed by fires that started around 3 a.m.
It is not currently known what started the fires, but the circumstances are being considered suspicious according to Lower Similkameen Indian Band Chief Keith Crow.
The two Similkameen churches follow after two churches in the Okanagan, one in Penticton and one in Osoyoos, were intentionally set on fire last week.
The Penticton and Osoyoos churches were located on the land of the Penticton and Osoyoos Indian Bands respectively. The Chopaka Church was on the Lower Similkameen Indian Band’s land and the Chuchuwyaha Church on the Upper Similkameen Indian Band’s land.
The Chuchuwayha chapel, built between 1910 and 1911 by the Catholic Church, was cared for by the band.
The Chopaka Church held service for members once a month, including a service just two weeks ago. It also contained historical and cultural documents that were destroyed in the fire.
“When I got there, and I got there pretty quickly, the church was to the ground. It’s just ashes left,” said Crow.
Many members of the band have been upset by the loss, and Chief Crow is among those who are upset by the destruction.
“It’s emotion across the board, I support everyone in our community, and we have Catholic members and other religious members in our community,” said Crow. “We’re in enough pain as it is with the issues around the residential schools, it’s bringing up a lot of emotions for our survivors. A lot of our survivors are Catholic.”
Chief Crow had words for the individual or individuals who may have started the fires:
“Just that I am disappointed. It is bringing more hate and anger to survivors who are struggling as it is. That’s all I have to say.”
More to come.
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