'Quit burning down churches': Indigenous minister pleads for an end to the church fires

Two Indigenous leaders are calling for an end to church burning, including an assistant Pentecostal minister.

The call comes after several Christian churches in B.C. were burned to the ground over a period of two weeks. Although it remains unclear who is responsible, some have speculated that the fires are retaliatory following the confirmation of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential schools, which themselves were run by various churches.

“I'm a 60s Scoop survivor and the daughter of a residential school survivor,” said Jenn Allan-Riley, assistant minister at Living Waters Church, in a press conference on Monday in Vancouver.

“We're here to basically ask people to basically quit burning down churches. We're concerned about the burning and defacing of churches bringing more strife, depression and anxiety to those already in pain and mourning."

Allan-Riley said that many residential school survivors are triggered by the sight of burning and defaced churches, and that the acts are sowing “further division” between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people.

“It also brings up former traumatic feelings of violence and threats to their lives," she said.

“Some residential school survivors have remained Catholic, and now have lost their place of worship and comfort.”

Allan-Riley said she doesn’t believe that Indigenous people would have lit the fires, and said that there are other ways for non-Indigenous people to stand in solidarity.

“This is not our native way,” she said.

RCMP have said the church fires, which were lit at night, are suspicious. However, they have not announced any arrests or suspect descriptions.

“Whoever is doing this you're going to wake up a very ugly evil spirit in this country, and it's gonna spread across this country, and it's gonna destroy it,” Allan-Riley said.

“If you want to support us you can stand with us and you can mourn in our grief and support us as we discover more graves across this country.”

Some residential school records are currently being processed at the Royal BC Museum.

However Cheryle O’Sullivan worries that other records have been lost or will be lost if the church burning continues.

“Who would do this? When those churches are burnt to the ground with that goes all of the evidence, the archives of who is running those churches during the residential school era,” she said.

O’Sullivan, who sat next to Allan-Riley at the press conference, is a residential school survivor and said that seeing the churches burn is traumatizing and conjures memories of the violence of colonization.

“When Indigenous people were first colonized, that was our totem poles that were burnt to the ground, our ceremonial houses, our big houses, our long houses, burnt to the ground. our masks, our regalia.”

O’Sullivan said she doesn’t believe Indigenous people would have lit the fires, but feels they are being blamed.

“I don't believe that burning the churches is a good thing for Indigenous people. What it is doing to us is villainizing us, when really we are the victim. And it just points the finger right back at us.”