'We all have to come together,' says James Smith Cree Nation chief after stabbing tragedy

·3 min read
James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns speaks at a news conference at the reserve on Thursday, a day after the man accused of killing 10 people in a stabbing rampage was arrested and then died.  (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns speaks at a news conference at the reserve on Thursday, a day after the man accused of killing 10 people in a stabbing rampage was arrested and then died. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

James Smith Cree Nation's chief and other Saskatchewan First Nations leaders consoled a shattered community and families of victims on Thursday, the day after the man accused in a stabbing rampage was captured and then died.

Chief Wally Burns says now is the time to begin the healing process.

"We all have to come together, as a community, as Canadians, as a whole," said Burns, who shook hands with family members of the victims before taking the podium Thursday.

"No words can emphasize the feelings that we're going through. There are a lot of us — the families, the membership — that are seeking help."

Myles Sanderson, 32, the main suspect in the violent attacks, was arrested near Rosthern, Sask., at about 3:30 p.m. CST Wednesday, according to RCMP. They say he went into medical distress shortly after he went into police custody and was pronounced dead at a hospital in Saskatoon.

Ten people were killed and 18 others were injured in the James Smith Cree Nation area and the nearby village of Weldon, Sask., over the Labour Day weekend.

Those tallies do not include Myles or his brother, Damien Sanderson, 31, who was also facing charges before he was found dead on Monday.

The victims include a first responder, a 78-year-old widower and a mother who died protecting her children, according to her family.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Thursday's sombre gathering of at least 100 people on James Smith, about 170 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon, included prayers, smudging, a sweat lodge and a ceremonial fire.

"There's a lot of emotions right now," Burns said. "We don't wish this upon anybody."

There was also a powerful moment of forgiveness between the brother of one of the victims and the partner of one of the alleged assailants.

Darryl Burns, who lost his sister Lydia Gloria Burns, put his arm around the wife of Damien Sanderson, who was charged with first-degree murder following Sunday's attacks.

"Our family is here to forgive," Darryl Burns said. "This woman shouldn't have to bear that kind of guilt and shame and responsibility."

Community members hugged Damien's wife as she sobbed.

WATCH | James Smith Cree Nation gathers to grieve:

Calls for First Nations policing 

Burns and other leaders called on the provincial and federal governments to help the community establish a tribal policing service and to fund addictions treatment centres in the community.

Saskatchewan has some First Nations policing but it's currently only provided to some areas of Treaty 4. James Smith Cree Nation is on Treaty 6.

Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte of the Prince Albert Grand Council said he will meet with Ottawa to to get funding to establish tribal policing.

"The criminal justice system has again failed the Indigenous people," Hardlotte said, who called for the establishment of a transition system for dangerous offenders.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said the Mounties are committed to working with First Nations on community-based solutions and to increase Indigenous recruitment.

"This can never happen again, this senseless violence," Lucki said.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe also attended the news conference and once again offered his condolences.

"All of Canada is with you during this very difficult time," Moe said.

James Smith chiefs presented Moe with a medallion urging him to keep his promises to the First Nation.

WATCH | We don't wish this upon anybody,' says James Smith chief: 

Support is available for anyone affected by the latest reports. You can talk to a mental health professional via Wellness Together Canada by calling 1-866-585-0445 or text WELLNESS to 686868 for youth or 741741 for adults. It is free and confidential. 

The Hope for Wellness hotline offers immediate help to Indigenous people across Canada. Mental health counselling and crisis support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.