First Nations chiefs, elders and leaders across Canada are speaking out against a spate of church burnings believed to be prompted by the latest residential school announcements.
To date, over 30 churches have either been lit on fire or targeted by vandals since the Cowessess First Nation and Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced the apparent discovery of burial sites at former residential schools located in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, respectively.
Leaders from federal and local First Nations organizations and bands are urging for calm and an end to criminal activities. They are also joined by residential school survivors.
True North has collected every public statement made by Indigenous leaders on the church attacks in recent weeks below.
National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde
“I can understand the frustration, the anger, the hurt and the pain, there’s no question, but to burn things down is not our way. Our way is to build relationships and come together.”
BC MLA and BC Liberal leader candidate Ellis Ross
“I wholeheartedly condemn these senseless acts of violence. In this difficult time, British Columbians and Canadians must remain calm.”
“My heart goes out to everyone who has been impacted by this senseless act – indigenous and non-indigenous. Now more than ever, we must remember that we are all British Columbians, and we are all Canadians.”
President of the Métis Nation of Alberta Audrey Poitras
“Some of our citizens were married there. Some left shoes on the steps to commemorate the children whose lives were lost at residential schools. Violence and destruction are not the way forward during these difficult times.”
Gitwangak Band Elected Chief Sandra Larin
“Whether or not we believe in formalized religion or we believe in the creator or we believe in both, this isn’t the way. Begetting violence with violence isn’t going to get us anywhere. Healing starts with forgiveness, and that’s what I’m going to ask from folks.”
Chief of Siksika Nation Ouray Crowfoot
“There’s not many places on Siksika that you can point to that aren’t sacred. If anybody feels like they can come on the Siksika Nation and do any kind of damage or vandalism, they will be under surveillance.”
“These churches represent places 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.”
Chief of the Lower Similkameen Band Keith Crow
“I don’t condone this at all. I support all my members, regardless of their religion and what their beliefs are. I hope, in the long run, these individuals do get caught. This is unacceptable.”
Osoyoos Indian Band Chief Clarence Louie
“Many residential school survivors hate the church with a passion – but I have never heard any of them ever suggest people turn to this … I talk to a lot of residential school survivors and, sure, there is a lot of hatred and bitterness and anger – but that still doesn’t mean you go and do arson.”
“There is a proper way of displaying anger. I mean, I’m angry about it. I talk to a lot of residential school survivors and sure there is a lot of hatred and bitterness and anger — but that still doesn’t mean you go and do arson. We think it is the same group of punks that burnt all of them down. And the young people that burned down these churches never went to residential schools.”
Daughter of residential school survivor Jenn Allan-Riley
“We do not spread hate, we love people, we do not destroy other people’s places of religion. We’re asking for people that are setting these fires to stop now.”
“We understand some people believe that they’re standing in solidarity with us Indigenous people as we find more graves across Canada. Burning down churches is not in solidarity with us Indigenous people.”