The Upper Similkameen Indian Band has released an official statement expressing sadness and disbelief over the burning of two Catholic churches in their area this weekend.
Early on Saturday morning, St. Ann's Church on Upper Similkameen Indian Band land and Chopaka Lady of our Lourdes Church on Lower Similkameen Indian Band land went up in flames and burned to the ground. The fires are considered suspicious by local authorities.
"We along with Lower Similkameen Indian Band are in disbelief of the complete disregard for our elders and ancestors and we are fully co-operating and helping with this investigation," reads a statement from the USIB issued Monday.
"Like LSIB, we understand the anger surrounding residential schools across our country, but we implore all of you to reach out for supports and help each other to express your anger and emotions in a different way. Putting our lands, wildlife, and members at risk is not the way. "
The band shared comments showing what the church meant to their community.
Below are the unedited statements from USIB elder Carrie Allison, and Chief Bonnie Jacobsen:
Statement from Elder Carrie Allison:
“I am Carrie Allison an Elder from the Upper Similkameen Indian Band, and I am 90 years old. I have lived in the Similkameen Valley for over 70 years. I was married to Slim Allison for 53 years (passed 2002) and my son is Councillor Michael Allison. I was born in Merritt BC, and I went to the Kamloops Residential School when I was 8 years old for 3 years, and I am one of the survivors.
I am very disappointed in what has happened to Saint Ann’s Church. The church was established Circa 1908 and was a historical landmark for all who travelled through the Similkameen Valley. There have been many happy and joyful times with marriages from all the over the world in that church, and for the couple that were to marry there next week, I am devastated.
The church meant so much to all of us, especially our ancestors. Our ancestors had to go to Penticton on horse and wagon to haul the lumber to build that church and would walk for miles to come to church rain or shine because it meant so much to them.
When all the people that were taking care of the church had passed away, somebody had to take over, so I did. I think of all our ancestors that helped to build Saint Ann’s looking over us and watching all their hard work and the place they cherished, burn to the ground.
To whoever destroyed Saint Ann’s church; you must have no feelings or respect for elders or ancestors. A lot of us suffered, but this is not how we do things, and this is not our way. It makes me so sick, sad, and I can only hope I do not know you. I feel sorry for you, and I hope you’re satisfied. When your hurt turns to rage it is not healthy for you or your community."
Statement from Chief Bonnie Jacobsen:
“This past weekend our community and the entire Okanagan Similkameen suffered a huge loss, one that can never be replaced. Our little white church on the hill was loved by many and admired by those who passed by on their way through this valley.
There are still many members of USIB that follow the Catholic and Christian faiths who are grieving after these events. Saint Ann’s church was built circa 1908 and holds many different meanings to this community, whether it be weddings, baptisms, sermons, etc. it was a beautiful church and historical landmark that is now gone.
While I understand the hurt and anger following the recent discoveries at several residential schools across Canada, I don’t believe this is the way, this is not our way, as violence and destruction are never the answer, and we don’t condone this. As always, we are resilient people, and our community has and will continue to join hands together after this tragedy and we will come out stronger despite these events.”
The two Similkameen churches' burnings followed a similar event in the South Okanagan early in the morning on June 21, when Catholic churches on Penticton Indian Band and Osoyoos Indian Band lands were destroyed. Those fires are also being treated as suspicious.