(ANNews) - Candle light vigils were held across Saskatchewan the evening of Sept. 7 to honour the 11 people killed and 19 people injured in a series of stabbing attacks on James Smith Cree Nation and surrounding communities.
This was the initiative of First Nations University, which held vigils at its Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Alberta campuses. The university also hosted a smudging ceremony on the afternoon of Sept. 6.
“FNUniv stands with those who are hurting and in pain. We open our hearts in support and warmly embrace you with thoughts and prayers for hope and healing,” said university president Jacqueline Ottmann.
“What happened is unfathomable—a beautiful morning darkened by loss. Collectively, we feel the shock, so together, we will mourn, pray, and heal. Our hearts are broken, but our will and resolve to survive and move through this trauma, from the unspeakable, is unshaken.”
James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns said at the Prince Albert vigil that he was shocked such senseless violence could occur in this corner of rural Saskatchewan, adding that he kept hoping it was a nightmare he would wake up from, according to reporting from the Prince Albert Daily Herald.
“From the first call that I got, I was shaken up,” Burns said during brief remarks at the ceremony’s outset. “Then from there, [my phone] started [ringing] off the hook.”
Also in attendance were James Cree tribal councillors Gerald McKay and Justin Burns, who along with the chief, expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support the nation received from across the country and world.
“I myself haven’t been sleeping since this all happened,” Coun. Burns 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.”
FNUniv community relations co-ordinator Trina Joseph said it was of the utmost to support the James Smith community as they grieved.
“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.
There were also vigils in northeast Saskatchewan on Sept. 6 co-ordinated by the Peter Ballantyne First Nation inter-tribal agency for people in Sandy Bay and Pelican Narrows.
“The more people that pray, the more powerful we become as one nation,” vigil participant Nola Morin told CTV News.
The United Church of Canada called on its members nation-wide to join in solidarity with Indigenous communities “by lighting a candle and offering prayers.”
“Let us come together in mourning to seek collective healing from our Creator,” a news release from the Church read.
Myles Sanderson, who was accused of the stabbing spree along with his brother Damien, died in police custody on Sept. 7.
On Sept. 5, Damien was found dead on the James Smith reserve of wounds the RCMP said weren’t self-inflicted.
According to reporting from Stewart Bell at Global News, Myles Sanderson had 59 criminal convictions in his 13 years of adulthood, including his most recent convictions for assault, assault with a weapon, assaulting a police officer, uttering threats, mischief and robbery.
In February, the Parole Board of Canada ruled that Sanderson would “not present an undue risk” and that his release would “contribute to the protection of society” by allowing his reintegration.
Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Alberta Native News