Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band also addressed the burnings.
“I don’t believe in the church. I don’t believe in those symbols, but some of our people do,” he said.
Sgt. Jason Bayda, media relations officer for the Penticton South Okanagan RCMP, said that if an investigation deems the fires to be arson, the police “will be looking at all possible motives and allow the facts and evidence to direct our investigative action.”
“We are sensitive to the recent events, but won’t speculate on a motive,” he said, according to Parksville Qualicum Beach News.
The Penticton Indian Band rejected speculation that the person or persons responsible “had any connection to the Indigenous communities in our region,” adding, “all we can do is to be there for one another in this unbelievably hard time.”
“Please do not approach our Indigenous members and ask how we feel about it,” said Dawn Russell, communications coordinator for the Penticton Indian Band.”
“This is a fresh wound that needs time to heal and contextualize our feelings as we will support the investigative efforts,” she said.
Gabriel said there’s “anger across Canada” in response to the discovered graves. “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,” he said.
Father Sylvester Obi Ibekwe, the parish priest of the Catholic parishes of Penticton, including Sacred Heart Mission, had announced a candlelight vigil for June 18 at St. Ann Church, “during which we will honor and pray for the repose of the souls of the 215 children who died in Kamloops and for their families.”
The priest asked people to bring teddy bears or children’s shoes to place on the steps of St. Ann Church or the nearby St. John Vianney Church.
In a June 1 message, posted on the parish website, he reported waking up one morning to find a sheet spray-painted in orange letters covering the church sign board. Its message said: “Your assets should be seized; have you no response?”
(Story continues below)
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He said he had spoken by phone with a chief at the Penticton Indian Reserve “to express our sadness over the tragic event that happened in Kamloops. We stand in solidarity with all our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
On the weekend of May 22, the remains of 215 Indigenous children were found in unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. The discovery was made with ground-penetrating radar. It is unclear how the children died.
A previous government commission report found that 51 children had died at the school, which operated from 1890 until 1978. The school was established by the federal government and was initially overseen by lay Catholics. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate ran the school beginning in 1893. In 1969, the government took back control of the school.
The Kamloops school was at one point the largest school in the entire residential school system, which was established in Canada beginning in the 1870s, with many schools operated by Catholic organizations or Protestant denominations. The last operating residential school closed in 1996.
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which operated from 2008 until 2015, reported on a history of abuses in the system and faulted both the churches and the government.
Children from First Nations and other Indigenous communities were separated from their families and placed in the residential schools as a means of forcible assimilation, which was meant to strip them of family and cultural ties. The children suffered from poorly built, poorly heated and unsanitary housing and facilities, which the report attributed largely to government efforts to cut costs. Many students had no access to trained medical staff and faced harsh, often abusive punishments.