Chiefs from James Smith Cree Nation (JSCN) and other First Nations leaders say the federal government needs to provide more funding in order for the recommendations made at an inquest into the stabbing massacre at JSCN to be put into action.
James Smith resident Myles Sanderson killed 11 people — 10 in the community and one in the nearby village of Weldon, Sask. — on Sept. 4, 2022.
The almost-three-weeks-long inquest examining the massacre ended on Wednesday with a panel of six jurors providing their findings on how and when each person died and 14 recommendations to prevent similar deaths from happening again. Coroner Blaine Beaven, who oversaw the inquest, added another 15 recommendations.
The recommendations are directed to organizations like the RCMP and Correctional Service of Canada, and to James Smith Cree Nation itself. They include calls for more programming and resources for offenders and their families, more collaboration between JSCN and police, changes to how RCMP deal with wanted suspects on the loose, and more resources to ensure people coming out of custody are able to reintegrate into society.
“Our hearts are still heavy from Sept. 4,” James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns said Thursday at a news conference held at the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations office in Saskatoon.
“I lost a lot of people, a lot of relations, and it’s sad to hear how they had to die.”
Burns said he has been focusing on Indigenous ceremony since the massacre to ease his pain.
When asked for a timeline of when James Smith Cree Nation would implement the recommendations, Chief Robert Head of Peter Chapman Band, one of the bands that make of James Smith Cree Nation, said the First Nations need to consider the recommendations, and bring them to community members and victims’ families for input.
More funding needed: chiefs
Burns said more funding from the federal government is needed to implement some of the recommendations.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us. I really want to look at how we can move forward, especially with self-administered policing, addictions awareness, all of all the areas that traumatized our people,” he said.
“My doors are open. Federally, provincially … I’m getting frustrated, because it’s like we’re spinning our wheels over and over. Nothing’s happening. And this is where we have to stop it.”
Assembly of First Nations Chief Cindy Woodhouse agreed, saying stable funding from the Crown for First Nations policing is essential to safety for those communities.
“The current funding model is outdated and insufficient to address communities in continuing public safety needs,” she said.
“It took the RCMP 22 minutes to reach the community after numerous 911 calls came into the RCMP detachment. That response time would be unacceptable if that was a non-First Nations community.”
She said she will be advocating for $3.6 billion in the next federal budget for policing and other infrastructural needs, and has been speaking with the federal ministers about the need for those supports.
Woodhouse said Wednesday’s recommendations need to be analyzed properly.
“We have a lot of work to do in this country, and by working together, we can find a path through this.”
Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte of Prince Albert Grand Council said communication gaps across the systems need to be improved.
“These recommendations, we like to call them calls to action, not just recommendations.”
In an email statement, the Government of Saskatchewan extended condolences to the families and communities of James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon.
“Though the result of tragic circumstances, the inquest was a valuable undertaking for Saskatchewan and fostered a deeper understanding of the important experiences and perspectives of those impacted,” the statement said.
Assistant commissioner Rhonda Blackmore, the commanding officer of the RCMP in Saskatchewan, said Thursday that the Mounties are committed to looking at the inquest recommendations and improving relations with James Smith Cree Nation.
Blackmore said the police force needs appropriate funding and human resources to proactively stop tragedies like this one from happening. She said that while First Nation communities are looking to create community police forces, but “it’s not something that you do overnight.”
In the meantime, she said, RCMP have created an Indigenous recruiting unit and an all-Indigenous troop is set to be trained this spring.
‘This is intergenerational trauma’: FSIN vice chief
FSIN Vice Chief Aly Bear said the ripple effects of the Indian Act and colonization got communities to where they are today.
“This [tragedy] is the direct effect of residential schools. This is intergenerational trauma and this is going to continue happening and rippling in our communities and it needs to come to an end,” she said.
Bear said the provincial and federal governments need to do their parts to ensure First Nations communities can revitalize their traditional systems in modern times.
Chelsey Stonestand, who had standing to ask questions on behalf of the family of victims Bonnie and Gregory Burns during the inquest, said Thursday that though the recommendations brought some relief, there were some things missing.
She said there should have been recommendations to the Parole Board of Canada.
The testimony on Monday discussed that only nine of 72 parole board members are Indigenous.
“That’s a strong disparity for Indigenous people, especially when 80 per cent of offenders are Indigenous,” Stonestand said.
“So the likelihood of having Indigenous representation at the table for case plans for our Indigenous offenders is highly unlikely.”
Stonestand said the recommendations should have touched upon the consumption of drugs in the institutions. She had questioned one of the witnesses around that topic on Monday but was not allowed to probe.
“[If] this isn’t the place to talk about drugs in the institutions, then when, then where?”