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Church fires are latest chapter in unmarked grave scandal

Churches are burning across western Canada in a spate of fires which local authorities are treating as suspicious, and which one local premier has identified as possible hate crime. 

The fires, which have damaged or destroyed at least seven churches in recent days, follow the still ongoing confirmation of hundreds of unmarked graves of First Nations children on the sites of residential schools operated by the Catholic Church throughout the twentieth century.

No direct link has been proven between the discovery of the unmarked graves and the church burnings, but the fires have mostly occurred on tribal lands, amid fierce criticism of the Catholic Church from many Canadians, and renewed expressions of pain by First Nations peoples over systematic injustices, both historic and recent.

As the situation continues to unfold, The Pillar brings you a brief guide to what has happened, and who has said what so far.

History

The residential schools were part of a set of policies which amounted to “cultural genocide,” according to an independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) 2015 final report on the residential school system. Compulsory attendance ended in 1948, and the schools began to close mostly in the 1960s, but some stayed open for decades longer.

Between 1863 and 1996, more than 150,000 children attended residential schools, most of which were administered by Catholic, Anglican, and other religious groups. Until 1948, attendance for many First Nations children was mandatory.

According to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, approximately 16 out of 61 Roman Catholic dioceses in Canada were associated with the residential school system, as were about 36 out of over 100 Catholic religious orders in Canada. By some estimates, as many as 70% of the roughly 130 residential schools were connected to the Catholic Church.

Read more at The Pillar

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