Ten Catholic churches in the Canadian State of Alberta have been burnt down in attacks that police have linked to the discovery of unmarked indigenous graves near former Catholic-run schools.
In May, 815 unmarked graves of indigenous people, mostly children, were discovered in two different former Catholic church schools. A third site containing 185 graves with human remains was found near Cranbrook, British Columbia, on Wednesday, bringing the total number of unmarked burial sites to just over 1,000.
From the 1800s until the 1970s, more than 150,000 indigenous children were forced to attend state-funded Christian boarding schools in an effort to assimilate them into Canadian society. Thousands of children died of disease and other causes, and many never returned to their families.
The discoveries have prompted a wave of alleged arson attacks, that for the leaders of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, an indigenous group, reflect "the grief and the rage" felt by many.
However, they have called for people to "deal with these emotions in a more healing way".
"This is a symptom of the intergenerational trauma our survivors and intergenerational descendants are experiencing, there are supports to help deal with these emotions in a more healing way," the group wrote in a statement.
Jason Kenney, Alberta's head of government, took to Twitter to express his disappointment with the church attacks.
"The vandalism of Churches across Alberta is appalling", he said.
"This happened today at an African Evangelical Church in Calgary. The congregation is made up entirely of new Canadians, many of whom came here as refugees fleeing countries where Churches are often vandalized & burned down.
"These folks came to Canada with the hope that they could practice their faith peacefully. Some of them are traumatized by such attacks. This is where hatred based on collective guilt for historic injustices leads us. Let's seek unity, respect & reconciliation instead," he tweeted together with a picture of the church's door painted with orange and red hands over it.
Calgary police said in a statement it was investigating the attacks and said "handprints, the number '215' and other markings suggest the vandalism was in response to the graves recently found at former residential schools."
It went on to say that the police department "is committed to doing our part in this reconciliation effort" but urged the community not to turn to vandalism as "it is not just illegal, but it [also] serves to create further division, fear and destruction in our city."