Church fire near Alberta Indigenous reserve under investigation

On December 15, Wood Buffalo police responded to a church fire adjacent to Chipewyan Prairie First Nation. As of writing, law enforcement has yet to comment on the cause of the blaze.

Church fire near Alberta Indigenous reserve under investigation
Facebook/ Archie Janvier
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RCMP are investigating a fire near an Alberta Indigenous reserve that completely engulfed and destroyed a church.

On December 15, Wood Buffalo police responded to a fire in Janvier, Alberta, a hamlet adjacent to Chipewyan Prairie First Nation, reported the Canadian Press.

Locals informed law enforcement they witnessed a silver sedan driving from the church soon after the blaze. By the time they arrived on scene, the flames had fully engulfed the structure, according to a news release.

The fire follows a separate RCMP probe into two fires at Barrhead churches earlier this month. Investigators believe those blazes were intentionally set.

As of writing, law enforcement has yet to comment on the cause of the Janvier church blaze.

Bishop Gary Franken of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Paul said the Janvier church that burned to the ground had thankfully remained unused for some time. He confirmed a newer church located in the vicinity had not suffered any damage.

"There was some talk about using the former church as a museum, but no decision was finalized about that," Franken wrote in an email Sunday to the Canadian Press.

"These church buildings belong to the First Nations band that they are on," he added. "The Diocese of St. Paul is responsible for providing the ministry, with a priest coming down from Fort McMurray on a Sunday once a month for Mass." 

Chipewyan Prairie First Nation councillor Shane Janvier expressed sorrow over the desecrated building, calling it a popular site of community celebrations, baptisms, weddings and funerals. He attended his first communion at the old church.

"Enough's enough. We've got to look out for one another as a community," Janvier said in a video posted to social media.

"We're Denésoliné people. If we're going to make statements that this is our land, we're going to fight for this land, then we'd better damn well learn to respect this land," he continued.

In May 2021, Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops, B.C., reported the discovery of alleged remains belonging to 215 children at a former residential school.

Nationwide outrage ensued, and the alleged graves catalyzed Truth and Reconciliation while propelling vandalism and the burning of over 60 churches across the country in the summer of 2021.

As of writing, no remains have been unearthed at the Kamloops site, with investigations to take upwards of two decades to complete.

On July 4, True North compiled a list of 83 churches in Canada that have been vandalized, burned down or desecrated since the apparent discovery of remains in KamloopsAmong them include several churches on sovereign Indigenous land in Alberta.

On June 19, 2021, a fire broke out at Samson United Church in Maskwacis First Nations. Preliminary reports noted the blaze caused interior damage to the structure, and a flooded basement.

On June 28, RCMP and fire officials responded to a fire at Siksika First Nation Catholic Church. An initial investigation into the blaze led law enforcement to believe the fire had been set deliberately.

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