Saint Ann’s Church near Hedley was built and treasured by the band's ancestors. Photo John Moody

Upper Similkameen Band describes pain caused by church fires

“Putting our lands, wildlife, and members at risk is not the way.”

An Upper Similkameen Indian Band Elder who survived the Kamloops residential school says she is devastated to see the church she loved and her ancestors built burned to the ground near Hedley.

Elder Carrie Allison is 90 years old and has lived in the Similkameen Valley for more than 70 of those years.

Allison’s late husband Slim Allison, a former chief, passed away in 2002. Her son Michael Allison is now a councillor with the Upper Similkameen Indian Band.

Now Allison, her son, along with the Upper Similkameen Indian Band (USIB) chief, band council and Lower Similkameen Indian Band (LSIB) as well as the community are in disbelief by the complete disregard for band elders and ancestors and are fully cooperating and helping with the fire investigation.

Like LSIB, the USIB understands the anger surrounding residential schools across the country but asks everyone to reach out and help each other to express their anger and emotions differently.

“Putting our lands, wildlife, and members at risk is not the way,” said the USIB in a statement.

Related: RCMP investigating suspicious fires that burned 2 Similkameen churches

“The church was a historical landmark for all who travelled through the Similkameen Valley. There have been many happy and joyful times with marriages from all over the world in that church, and for the couple that was to marry there next week,” said Allison.

Four historic Catholic churches have been burned to the ground on band lands in the Okanagan and Similkameen.

“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,” she said. “A lot of us suffered, but this is not how we do things, and this is not our way. “

She went on to send a message to whoever is responsible for the fires.

“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.”

According to Chief Bonnie Jacobsen of the Upper Similkameen Indian Band, there are still many members of USIB that follow the Catholic and Christian faiths who are grieving after these events.

“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,” Jacobsen said.

“Out of respect for our people, please refrain from contacting anyone in the Upper Similkameen while we all take the time to heal from this invasion and loss to our community.”

Related: Similkameen Indian Bands ‘in disbelief and angered’ over burning of Catholic churches