A pair of Catholic churches on First Nations reserves in the South Okanagan were destroyed by fire early Monday – just hours after the official start of National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada.

The first lit up around 1:30 a.m. and razed the 110-year-old Sacred Heart Church on Green Mountain Road on the Penticton Indian Reserve.

“I can’t make any assumptions that it was deliberate or an accident. Let the investigators carry out their work and see what they come up with,” Chief Greg Gabriel said around 10 a.m. as he surveyed the scene.

Gabriel noted, though, it’s “pretty coincidental” that another Catholic church located on Osoyoos Indian Band land was burned around the same time.

Fire crews there responded to St. Gregory Church on Nk’Mip Road in Oliver at 3 a.m. The charred remains of the church, built in 1910, were still smouldering at noon.

Police are treating both fires as suspicious.

“Should our investigations deem these fires as arson, the RCMP will be looking at all possible motives and allow the facts and evidence to direct our investigative action,” RCMP spokesman Sgt. Jason Bayda said in a press release.

“We are sensitive to the recent events, but won’t speculate on a motive.”

The fires coincide with National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada and come at a time of heightened tensions between First Nations and the Catholic church, owing to its role in residential schools, such as the one in Kamloops, where the remains of 215 children were recently discovered with ground penetrating radar.

“There’s a lot of anger in every First Nation community because of the past couple of weeks and the unbelievable, horrific discovery of the 215 children that lost their lives because of the church,” said Chief Gabriel.

“There’s no doubt they are responsible and so is the Government of Canada. I myself am very angry as to what’s coming out since the discovery.

Sacred Heart was still being utilized by the community, the chief added.

“Sadly, this erases a lot of memories, both good and bad,” said Gabriel.

“They held marriages here, baptisms here, funerals here, Easter masses, Christmas masses and there were a number of community members who attended those events. I would expect this causes them some grief and sorrow. The last year or so, they were having regular church services at least once a month here.”