James Smith Cree Nation marks one year since mass murder

Submitted Photo Chief Robert Head addressed the media at a press conference on the one year anniversary of the James Smith mass stabbing on Monday at James Smith.

Members of James Smith Cree Nation asked for space to heal on Monday to mark one year since the mass murder that left 11 people dead and 17 injured on Sept. 4, 2022.

Ten of the murder victims came from James Smith Cree Nation, while the other lived in the nearby town of Weldon. The RCMP account for 17 others who were injured in the attack.

The Chiefs of the three bands that make up James Smith, Chief Wally Burns, JSCN Chief Robert Head of Peter Chapman and Chief Calvin Sanderson of Chakastaypasin held a media availability with Minister Patty Hajdu of Indigenous Services Canada in Sakwatamo Lodge on Monday. The Chiefs spoke to gathered media on behalf of the families and community.

“I would like to say and acknowledge that the system has failed us,” Burns said, pointing to residential schools, colonialism, and the high numbers of Indigenous people in jails as symptoms that he said helped create incidents like the mass killing.

“Those tragedies and traumas they do culminate over the years,” Head added. “Residential school abuses, alcoholism, discrimination, it all combined and drives people to do awful things in this world, and that’s a lot of reality for First Nations people.

“I just wanted to remind Canadians and people all across the world that our struggle is real and we’re struggling. We’re trying to make the world better for our people.”

Head said they needed support from the world to get back on an even playing field with human rights and kindness. The thanked those who came out to listen and spread that message. He also thanked those who helped the First Nation get through the first year since the tragedy.

Despite one year passing, Chakstaypasin Chief Calvin Sanderson said there is still some uneasiness.

“I don’t even feel comfortable where I live right now,” Sanderson said. “One of those individuals lost their lives by my place and I didn’t realize he was actually laying there.

“Unfortunately it was Damien trying to make it to my place for help, but who knows if he would have been successful what would have happened that night. I got to be grateful that I’m still here today with my kids and my grandkids. I got to respect that family too and that’s one of the families where they’ll be planting a tree on his behalf today.”

He also thanked community members from Weldon who attended the memorial service earlier in the day.

The families were holding feasts and remembering in their own ways and all of the Chiefs asked that people respect and give space to them.

He said his brother still has a lot of anger inside a year after the incident.

“That’s how he feels inside and I can imagine our members are going through that,” he said.

Hadju said that she had heard similar stories from the families about how the incident was born from colonialism and generational trauma.

“My commitment to James Smith Cree Nation today and really to all Indigenous people is that I’ll keep fighting for equity, for truth and for self-determination. That’s the only way forward for this country, and it’s actually a really wonderful journey,” she said.

“I’m encouraging Canadians to keep up the great work on learning about each other and learning about Indigenous peoples that are amongst all of us in every community of this country and that enrich our lives every single day.”

Hadju said that from her perspective as Minister, the community needed financial resources and practical tools to help their recovery.

“Since the year has gone by there has been about $ 9.3 million spent and immediate support for things like therapy. The Amazing Pathways to Safe Communities Security Officer Program, which I heard about coming to the community, and the stabilization of the staff for the security officer program is giving community members a greater sense of safety and also some costs for issues around family violence and income supports and other kinds of related expenses, too, related to funerals.”

She also said that there was a commitment of $42.5 million over six years to build a Mental Health Wellness Centre.

“The community is determining what that will look like and the time is there,” Hadju said. “The community should have comfort that that commitment is solid and the money has been set aside. It will be there when they’re ready to proceed with the plan that they would like to see.”

I’m grateful they’re taking the time to figure out what works in their community, what the community members would like to see.

Hadju said that the government is working around legislation around self-determined policing.
“There’s also ongoing work around legislation and policing legislation that our government will be undertaking with the lens of self-determination, like the child welfare legislation and like the water and health legislation that I’m working on now,” Hadju said.

FSIN Vice Chief Heather Bear and David Pratt and PAGC Vice Chief Christopher Jobb and Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte along with councillors from James Smith were also in attendance.

The day opened with a Pipe ceremony in the tipi at the James Smith Cree Nation Cultural Grounds. Later in the morning there was a Memorial Service held at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church led by Arch Deacon Dr. Wilfred Sanderson, Anglican Church & Reverend Dr. Theresa Sanderson, Anglican Church.

There was also a community fish fry and community barbecue during the afternoon. The James Smith Cree Nation Health Centre Healthcare staff dedicated a gazebo to their fallen co-worker, the late Gloria Burns.

The day closed with a Candlelight Vigil in front on Bernard Constant School, Elders and Clergy spoke and lead prayers. Honour song with hand drums by Digging Bear.