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Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP
Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel said he knows his community is angry after the discovery of 215 graves of children at a former Kamloops Residential School, but the council doesn’t condone burning the church down –if a Monday morning fire was arson.

“There are some mixed feelings. I understand there is a lot of anger in our community with the discovery of those 215 innocent, poor children’s graves. There is a lot of hurt. But this type of action doesn’t help if in fact it is found to be deliberate,” said Gabriel standing in front of the burned down Sacred Hearts Church.

“This church has been here since 1911. It was a fixture in our community. Many in our community were members and involved in services. Some of our elders are attached to the church and have come here today very sad. They are hurting but also they understand.”

At 3:10 a.m., over an hour after Sacred Hearts Church burned down, Oliver RCMP was notified St. Gregory’s Church on Nk’mip Road was burning.

Both churches burned to the ground and police are treating the fires as suspicious, said Sgt. Jason Bayda, media relations officer for the Penticton South Okanagan RCMP.

“We cannot speculate that the person(s) responsible had any connection to the Indigenous communities in our region, all we can do is to be there for one another in this unbelievably hard time,” said a statement released by the PIB.

The site is deemed unsafe and the public is asked to stay away from the immediate area.

“Please do not approach our Indigenous members and ask how we feel about it. This is a fresh wound that needs time to heal and contextualize our feelings as we will support the investigative efforts,” said Dawn Russell, PIB communications coordinator.

It was the Catholic Church that ran the residential school in Kamloops where 215 children’s unmarked graves were found.

The discovery has put a spotlight on Canada’s residential schools and exposed the country’s horrific history of how Indigenous peoples have been treated and shed light on the atrocities that took place. The schools were run by Catholic and Anglican churches.

The Pope has never apologized. The Anglican Church did apologize several years ago.

“There’s anger across Canada. Myself, I’m very angry. I will do whatever I can in our leadership to make sure people are held accountable for those atrocities. It has to be a criminal investigation because that evil act is criminal. There needs to be a full criminal investigation and people need to be held criminally responsible,” Gabriel said.

The Penticton Indian Band is joining the Syilx Okanagan Nation’s For the Children Caravan on Saturday, June 26.

READ MORE: PIB joins For the Children Caravan to Kamloops June 26

RCMP said they will continue to liaise with both the Penticton and Osoyoos Indian Bands investigating the fires.

“Should our investigations deem these fires as arson, the RCMP will be looking at all possible motives and allow the facts and evidence to direct our investigative action,” said Sgt. Jason Bayda, media relations officer for the Penticton South Okanagan RCMP. “We are sensitive to the recent events, but won’t speculate on a motive.”

Chief Gabriel said there is surveillance video from an adjacent business that might have some footage on it.

Police are asking for anyone who may have witnessed anyone or any vehicle in the area of either church some time between the late hours of June 20 and early hours of June 21, to contact the Penticton RCMP detachment at 250-492-4300.

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Monique Tamminga

About the Author: Monique Tamminga

Monique brings 20 years of award-winning journalism experience to the role of editor at the Penticton Western News. Of those years, 17 were spent working as a senior reporter and acting editor with the Langley Advance Times.
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