Prime Minister visits James Smith Cree Nation, promises $40-million investment to fund community wellness centre

During a visit to the James Smith Cree Nation on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the Government of Canada will be investing $40 million over six years to fund a wellness centre in the community in the wake of the Sept. mass stabbing tragedy that took the lives of 11 people.

The federal government also plans to invest $2.5 million over the next five years to increase access to holistic treatment and traditional healing services for the people of James Smith, including cultural supports and long-term care for individuals struggling with substance use.

“Proper care and interventions can help advert crises, this is why access to culturally-grounded mental health and addictions care is so important,” said Trudeau. “All members of our communities should have access to the type of support they need and today we’re taking action to improve access to care for the people of James Smith Cree Nation.”

The Canadian government is currently working with Indigenous communities around the country and are taking steps to advance First Nations Police Service legislation, said Trudeau. Earlier in the month, Public Safety Minister Marc Mendicino came to the James Smith Cree Nation to launch consultations with the Prince Albert Grand Council and worked to develop a community safety plan to meet the specific needs of the community.

Trudeau said there is no timeline in place for the implementation of First Nations Police Services just yet, as the federal government plans to work closely with Indigenous leaders to design a system that is right for them. While First Nations communities across Canada are facing similar challenges, each one is unique and requires different resources.

“Our job as a federal government is not anymore to tell people what it is they need to do, or to tell them what the solutions are,” said Trudeau. “Our job is to be there with support, with all the tools necessary for Indigenous peoples themselves to be at the center of building stronger, more resilient communities anchored in traditional knowledge, anchored in language, anchored in culture, anchored in identity.”

Before coming to the Bernard Constant Community School for presentations by the students and a grand entry with traditional drumming, Trudeau and Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu met with some of the survivors of the Sept. 4 attack and families of the victims. There, Trudeau heard similar concerns about the justice system failing the people of James Smith due to Myle Sanderson’s early release from incarceration.

“It was a struggle, finding ways and means in regards to why the system failed our people,” said James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns. “Dealing with that situation where a release was made by the Board and the Board not notifying the First Nation is another. Working in collaboration on how to fix the system, it takes not just one people but it takes a whole province to fix what is broken.”

Burns ended the ceremony by saying he’s thankful for Minister Hadju and Prime Minister Trudeau’s visit, and for all of the people of James Smith and their resilience moving forward.