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Home News ‘We knew our community was hurting’: Prince Albert residents gather to show support for residents of Weldon and James Smith Cree Nation

‘We knew our community was hurting’: Prince Albert residents gather to show support for residents of Weldon and James Smith Cree Nation

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‘We knew our community was hurting’: Prince Albert residents gather to show support for residents of Weldon and James Smith Cree Nation
A drumming group performs during Wednesday’s candlelight vigil in support of James Smith Cree Nation, Weldon, and other affected communities. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Chief Wally Burns said he struggled to find words that could express how he and the rest of James Smith Cree Nation felt following the string of stabbings incidents on Sunday that left 10 people dead and 18 more injured.

At Wednesday’s candlelight vigil, however, that’s exactly what he tried to do. Burns said he was shocked that something like this could happen in a rural corner of Saskatchewan. He kept hoping to wake up and discover it was all a bad dream.

“From the first call that I got, I was shaken up,” Burns said in a short speech prior to the candle lighting. “Then from there, it started (ringing) off the hook.”

The James Smith Cree Nation chief was one of many local residents who flooded Memorial Square outside Prince Albert City Hall to support the victims and their families. Although the last four days were tough, Burns said he was grateful for the outpouring of support.

“I got a lot of calls and text messages—I don’t even know the people—sending their condolences to all the families and victims,” he said.

Chief Wally Burns speaks during the candlelight vigil in support of Weldon and James Smith Cree Nation on Wednesday, Sept. 7 at Memorial Square. — Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

“I thank the cities, the towns, the hamlets, the First Nations, countries, (and) I’d even like to thank our queen, for reaching out and sending their condolences. I thank each and every one of you today who came out and helped set this all up.

“I very choked this evening. What am I going to say?”

James Smith Cree Nation councillors Gerald McKay and Justin Burns were also in Prince Albert for Wednesday’s vigil. Justin Burns said with 12 people, including the primary suspect, now dead, the community would take a long time to heal.

Like Chief Wally Burns, however, Justin appreciated seeing the strong support in Prince Albert, Canada, and around the world.

“I myself haven’t been sleeping since this all happened,” he said. “Our families, our loved ones, we’re not sleeping. (We’re) scared, but drew all this energy from all the caring people that we have here in this city, and all the cities that we have in our province, all of our First Nations that came together, and having this very thing—vigils—for our community.

“We are so greatly indebted to you all. To every one of you who are here, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts, but now, it’s time for our healing journey back home to bring our people together again.”

Wednesday’s vigil was one of several organized across the province following Sunday’s tragedy.

The First Nations University of Canada (FNUC) northern campus was responsible for the event in Prince Albert. FNUC student association honourary rep Cheryl Murphy said she couldn’t imagine what it was like to go through such a loss, and hoped the vigil would help start the healing process.

“We knew that our community was hurting,” Murphy said afterwards. “We knew there was a lot of fear, a lot of unanswered questions, confusion, and hurt, and we wanted to show to our students and community that we’re here to support them through what’s going on.”

FNUC community-based program coordinator Trina Joseph said it was obvious needed to be a strong show of support for James Smith Cree nation and the nearby community of Weldon. She also said community members and students needed a place to gather together and heal.

A drumming group performs during Wednesday’s candlelight vigil in support of James Smith Cree Nation, Weldon, and other affected communities. — Nathan Reiter

“We have students and grads and staff who are all affected, who are all part of those families and part of those communities,” Joseph explained. “We wanted to make sure that we supported and acknowledged them some way, somehow.

“We had the whole square full and that was amazing to see,” she added. “I think the community felt that energy and I’m glad they all attended.”

Wednesday’s vigil won’t be the only event one in the area. The Prince Albert Grand Council has planned a similar event for a later date. Vigils are also planned at First Nations around Saskatchewan.

James Smith Cree Nation plans to host a press conference in the community on Thursday. FSIN, PAGC, and federal government officials will be present.