Editor’s Note: Emotional support or assistance for those who are affected by the residential school system can be found at Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll-free 1 (800) 721-0066 or 24 hr Crisis Line 1 (866) 925-4419.
VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Some Christian residential school survivors are denouncing the burning and defacing of churches, warning that violence only further divides Indigenous people and the Canadian government, police and religious institutions.
A video shared exclusively with NEWS 1130 shows two women throwing orange paint at St. Jude’s Parish (a Catholic church) near Renfrew Street and 15th Avenue. This is just one of the latest forms of vandalism across the country, along with the burning of churches.
In B.C. alone, two Anglican churches and four Catholic churches have been burned to the ground.
Cheryle Delores Gunargi O’Sullivan is a survivor who says this destructive behaviour is triggering more trauma — adding, these acts do not demonstrate solidarity.
“What it is doing to us as villainizing us, when really we are the victims,” she says.
“It is not going to help us to build relationships or rebuild relationships with religion, with the government, or with even the RCMP. It’s counterproductive. And it really needs to stop so that we can focus on the children that have yet to be found.”
Vandalism and the suspicious fires follow the discovery of remains linked to the former residential school system found in B.C. and Saskatchewan.
Last week, the Lower Kootenay Band says a search using ground-penetrating radar has found 182 human remains in unmarked graves. Another 751 unmarked graves on the grounds of a former residential school in Saskatchewan was confirmed just weeks after the remains of 215 children were found in Kamloops.
Jenn Allan, who’s the daughter and niece of residential school survivors, adds some residential school survivors have remained Catholic — and with the burning of places of worship — have now have lost their place of worship and comfort.
“The burning and defacing of churches bring more strife, depression [and] anxiety to those already in pain and mourning. Former survivors of Canada residential schools are triggered by the sight of burning and deface churches. It also brings former traumatic feelings of violence and threats to their lives. This is also putting further division between Canada’s Indigenous people and the rest of Canadian society.”
“This is not our native way. We do not hate people. We do not spread hate. We love people. We do not destroy other people’s places that religion.”
In a statement, the Archdiocese of Vancouver is also expressing “deep distress,” saying, “The right path forward is one of reconciliation, dialogue and atonement with Indigenous people” who can “lead us in that process.”
The Archdiocese goes on to describe anyone in positions of authority urging “mobs toward increasing hatred and violence” as “painful and disturbing.”
“Churches are made up of people, and many of them here are made up of Indigenous people, refugees, and migrants – the very people we should all seek to protect rather than terrorize.”
“If you want to stay in solidarity with us … stand and mourn with us in our grief as our children’s bodies are being recovered,” Allan says.
O’Sullivan adds allies can also “maybe light a candle, maybe a sacred fire.”
“Heal. Let’s begin this healing process be the medicine to yourselves and to the people.”
Vancouver police have confirmed with NEWS 1130 that the VPD is looking for the two women who vandalized the St. Jude’s Parish Thursday night.