Smoldering ash is all that remains of the old log church at the end of Konni Lake in the Nemiah Valley on this Thanksgiving weekend, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020.
Xeni Gwet’in Chief Jimmy Lulua said he feels disappointed, but also surprised, that someone from his community would deliberately burn down the church, which was still used in the summer months and held sentimental value year-round for many.
“I’m really surprised about this behaviour in our community. As Xeni Gwet’in people we have always had a really high respect level,” Lulua said. “Since COVID has hit we’ve started to notice a change.”
Lulua said getting ‘free money’ from the government during the pandemic has had negative aspects for some. Also, COVID restrictions have allowed some members of his community to operate without having to engage with or be held accountable to the community or leadership.
The Xeni Gwet’in First Nation community has experienced an increase in crime since the pandemic, the chief noted, such as sugar being poured into the gas tanks of community and members’ vehicles.
“I don’t know if they’ve lost their way or what they’re doing. Maybe they’re angry at the church. It might just be one or two individuals, but what are they going to do next?”
Lulua said many weddings have taken place at the church. It is also the starting point of the annual Youth Wagon Trip every year and a place where the community gathers for swimming.
“This year we cleaned the beach, put up bathrooms and picnic tables down there to improve social distancing for members to get outside,” Lulua said, adding the church will be rebuilt but maybe not at the same location.
Lulua encourages anyone with information about the fire to contact the Xeni Gwet’in government office.
“In time we will catch them and hold them accountable to the community,” he said.
“There was a lot of sentimental value, regardless of religion.We have to respect for each other.”