Wife of Veteran slain in James Smith tragedy honoured with medal and Silver Cross during PAGC Remembrance Day service

The Margo Fournier Centre was filled with hundreds of Veterans, First Nations dignitaries, students, and community members on Thursday who all gathered to pay tribute to Indigenous Veterans and those who lost their lives fighting for freedom, like the late Earl Burns who sacrificed his life trying to protect his family during the James Smith stabbings earlier this year.

The Prince Albert Grand Council’s annual Remembrance Day service began with a flag song from drum group Round Plain Juniors and a Grand Entry of Indigenous Veterans, Air Cadets, leaders from the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) and Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC), and officers with the RCMP and Prince Albert Police Service.

The building was decorated with paper poppies, silhouettes of soldiers, and other symbols representing Canada’s freedom thanks to students from the Montreal Lake Cree Nation. Chief Joyce Naytowhow-McLeod mentioned the importance of Air Cadets and the positive influence it has on the youth in her community.

Other speakers like Deputy Chief Farica Prince, S/Sgt. Brian Kelly with the Saskatchewan Indigenous Policing Services, and FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron, talked about the significance of remembering First Nations Veterans and honouring their sacrifices; many of whom don’t receive the same acknowledgement as non-Indigenous Veterans.

After a final speech from the Grand Chief of the Saskatchewan First Nations Veterans Association David Gamble, Burns’ widow, Joyce, was presented with the Aboriginal Veteran Millennium Medal in honour of her late husband’s heroic deeds in his final moments.

Burns, a Canadian Armed Forces Veteran, was one of 11 people who were killed during the murder spree in the James Smith Cree Nation and nearby Village of Weldon on Sept. 4.

Witnesses to the tragedy say he attempted to chase down the suspects and protect his community before he succumbed to his injuries. Burns’ actions during that fateful September morning proved he was a true warrior, said Gamble.

A teary-eyed Joyce was surrounded by family when she was gifted the medal and a star blanket by her brother and her late husband’s brother in arms, Victor Sanderson. PAGC also honoured Joyce with the Silver Cross, as a symbol of her personal loss and sacrifice.

Her son, Earl Burns Jr., laid a wreath for the Silver Cross alongside the others to pay respects for those that served in the World Wars and Korean War, Peacekeepers and the RCMP.

The solemn ceremony ended with the sounding of a trumpet, a moment of silence and a closing prayer by Bishop Adam Halkett.

Bailey Sutherland, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald