The O’Keefe Ranch is taking extra precautions after four churches burned in the South Okanagan in the past week. (O’Keefe Ranch photo)

The O’Keefe Ranch is taking extra precautions after four churches burned in the South Okanagan in the past week. (O’Keefe Ranch photo)

Staff threatened ahead of Vernon Canada Day event

O’Keefe Ranch doing what it can to protect church after burnings in South Okanagan

Calls to cancel Canada Day are echoing across the country after news broke June 1 that the remains of 215 Indigenous children were found buried in unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops.

But, despite threats to staff, an event will forge ahead at O’Keefe Ranch on July 1.

“‘How could you?,’ ‘How dare you,’ ‘Get off the land,’” are among some harsh words flying at staff said ranch manager Sherrilee Franks.

When the province’s capital announced June 10 it was cancelling Canada Day celebrations out of respect for First Nations, the North Okanagan Canada Day Society and O’Keefe Ranch organizers stopped and reached out to the Okanagan Indian Band for advice on how to proceed.

It was determined a COVID-friendly event would proceed, from 10-1 p.m. due to the heat wave, and it would incorporate an expedited exhibit that focuses on the history of residential schools.

“The reason we haven’t publicized it is because they’re not our words to say,” Franks said of the consultation. “My approach is to be supportive.”

She said now is a time for people to listen to Indigenous Peoples and by cancelling Canada Day, it would be “almost self-serving” by turning the attention back to the ranch.

But emotions are high and the issue is seemingly bipartisan. Several churches in B.C. and Alberta have burned down in suspicious fires.

Four burned in the South Okanagan in the past week.

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel said he knows his community is angry, but council doesn’t condone church burning.

The believed arsons sparked fear in staff at the ranch and pushed them to implement extra security measures to protect the church on the grounds.

“We’re doing the best we can to save the church and if it is targeted, it doesn’t take out the rest of the property,” Franks said of the lands that are home to several historic buildings. “We’re essentially standing kindling.”

While it formerly served as a catholic church, Franks noted the church is no longer associated with any religion.

“People of Chrisitan faith, including catholicism, are feeling targeted,” Franks said of the recent burns. “We have to navigate cautiously.”

READ MORE: Residential school exhibit expedited for Vernon’s Canada Day at ranch

READ MORE: Vernon smashes 2008 heat record Tuesday



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