Update 1:30 p.m.:
Penticton South Okanagan Similkameen RCMP are investigating the circumstances around the two Similkameen churches that burned down early Saturday morning, June 26.
On June 26, 2021 at 3:52 a.m., the Princeton RCMP received a call the St. Ann’s Catholic Church on the Upper Similkameen Indian Band (USIB) near the small community of Hedley, BC was on fire.
At 4:45 a.m., the Keremeos RCMP received a call the Chopaka Catholic Church on the Lower Similkameen Indian Band (LSIB) at Chopaka was on fire.
Both churches have been destroyed. The fire at the church on the LSIB spread to nearby brush which was quickly extinguished by BC Wildfire crews before spreading further.
“The RCMP are treating both of these fires as suspicious and are looking to determine any possible connection to the church fires in both Penticton and Oliver on June 21, 2021”, said Sgt Jason Bayda, media relations officer for the Penticton South Okanagan RCMP in a press release.
“The investigations into the previous fires and these two new fires are ongoing with no arrests or charges”.
Police are asking for anyone who may have witnessed anyone or any vehicle in the area of either church in the early hours of June 26 to contact the Penticton RCMP Detachment at 250-492-4300.
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 on June 20.
Both 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.
Not only did the Chopaka Church hold service for members once a month, including a service just two weeks ago, but it also contained historical and cultural documents as well 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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