Residents believe fire that destroyed cabins on sacred Indigenous land was deliberately set
Firefighters still don’t know who or what started destructive fires on sacred land at Cape Breton's Potlotek First Nation. More than a dozen cabins on Chapel Island burned to the ground on the weekend.
While the RCMP have not said yet how the fires started, residents believe it was deliberate.
Quentin Doucette still can't believe what he saw early Monday morning: 14 cabins all on fire and later destroyed on an island his community holds sacred.
“I’m very surprised -- in the middle of winter -- to have a fire on the island when there's no obvious reason why there should be,” said Doucette, Potlotek’s deputy fire chief.
There's no electricity there and Doucette says the island is pretty much deserted during the winter months.
For hundreds of years, Mi'kmaw people have been meeting on Chapel Island while many own cabins and have relatives buried there.
“My husband died in April of last year,” said Potlotek resident Mary-Anne Marshall. “He's buried at the island.”
Marshall, who is 73, is an elder in the community and feels the fires were set. She says it's a sign of disrespect to many in the First Nations community.
“We're losing a lot when they do that, because the island is very sacred to us and we’ve been going for years and years,” Marshall said. “Our great parents and their parents. There's a lot of history there.”
The RCMP say nobody was hurt in the fire, but they do say the fire has been deemed suspicious and an investigation is underway.
“We are working with the Nova Scotia office of the fire marshal,” the RCMP said in a statement. “With their assistance, we've determined the fire is suspicious, that there were multiple ignition points in the fire, and several cabins were destroyed.”
Bernadette Marshall says she woken up by a phone call from a friend telling her about the fires. When she made her way down to the island, she said the damage and destruction was heartbreaking.
You felt such an emptiness all of a sudden -- a hollow feeling, really sad,” Bernadette Marshall said. “Imagine that’s been your cabin every year. You're renovating and fixing it up. But it's all the memories. They're all gone with a flick of a lighter or whatever.”
RCMP say the island was only accessible by ATV or snowmobile, which they feel might make their investigation easier.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Kyle Moore.