Leaders at James Smith Cree Nation voice concerns, hopes on anniversary of stabbings

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Leaders at James Smith Cree Nation voice concerns, hopes on anniversary of stabbings

Saskatchewan

Monday marked one year since the worst mass stabbing in Canadian history happened at James Smith Cree Nation (JSCN) and nearby Weldon, Sask.

James Smith Chief Wally Burns says ‘the system has failed us’

Liam O’Connor · CBC News

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Chiefs and leadership sit at a table in front of a room

Chiefs and some community members gathered at a press conference being held in James Smith Cree Nation. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

Monday marked one year since the worst mass stabbing in Canadian history happened at James Smith Cree Nation (JSCN) and nearby Weldon, Sask.

Chiefs and community members who gathered on the First Nation say healing continues after the traumatic events that unfolded last year, but some are starting to feel safe again.

On Sept. 4, 2022, 32-year-old Myles Sanderson killed 11 people and injured 17 others on the First Nation.

James Smith Chief Wally Burns started the conference saying, “the system has failed us.” He pointed to the role colonialism has played in intergenerational trauma. 

“Looking at it in the perspective where you know our people are full of jails, colonialism and also the residential school,” said Burns.

“We want to look at our own system, our own Indian laws in regards to self-administered policing, our own self justice and helping our people turn their lives around.”

Burns added an integral part of that plan would involve more land-based learning and guidance from elders. 

‘Struggle is real’: Chief Robert Head

Other leaders spoke of the challenges ahead.

“Residential school, abuses, alcoholism, discrimination, it all combines and drives people to do awful things in this world, and that’s a lot of reality for First Nations people,” said Robert Head, Chief of Peter Chapman, one of the bands that are part of James Smith Cree Nation.

“I just wanted to remind Canadians and people all across the world that our struggle is real.”

Head said that many families in the community are still reeling from the stabbings that happened last fall. 

Patty Hajdu, the federal minister of Indigenous Services, who was present at the conference said she was in James Smith last year and attended three funerals, and now on Monday she came with “a heavy heart.”

“We will be there for the community as long as they need it and obviously it takes more than dollars, it takes all kinds of inputs to heal from the tragedy like this,” said Hajdu.

She says $9.3 million has been allocated to help James Smith after the attacks and another $42.5 million for a new wellness centre, which was announced earlier this year by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

‘Enough is enough’

Calvin Sanderson is the chief the Chakastaypasin band. He says he shed a tear at the memorial that was held earlier that morning. A candlelight vigil was scheduled for later Monday.

He said “enough is enough” when it comes to bringing in hard drugs into the First Nation, adding that First Nations and cities across Canada are enduring substance abuse issues.

Chief Calvin Sanderson speaking into microphone

Chief Calvin Sanderson spoke at the press conference held on Monday. He addressed substance abuse and housing issues in James Smith Cree Nation. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

“I say this to the membership that are bringing this in. Stop doing that,” said Sanderson. “Leave it out there. Stop doing that to our kids. If you wanna use that, you go use it out there, but don’t bring it in here.”

Sanderson added that housing is another area of concern for him in the community, and he still doesn’t feel comfortable where he lives right now. 

“Housing is a big issue in our community, we’re walking on eggshells here.”

He also asked that the media respect the families’ privacy so they can celebrate in their own way.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Liam O’Connor is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan based in Saskatoon. O’Connor graduated from the University of Regina journalism school. He covers general news for CBC. You can reach him at liam.oconnor@cbc.ca.

    With files from Pratyush Dayal and Will McLernon

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