WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
A public inquest into the mass stabbings at James Smith Cree Nation and the town of Weldon doesn’t begin until next week, but Chief Calvin Sanderson is already having trouble sleeping.
“I was imagining what the membership’s going to go through, especially the families. They’re going to be looking at a lot of graphic things,” Sanderson said.
“It’s going to be emotional. You’re just more or less disrupting the spirits again. You can feel that energy coming from the membership out there that are carrying that weight.”
The inquest is scheduled to begin Monday in Melfort, Sask. It will focus on the 11 people killed by Myles Sanderson, who also died several days later following a provincewide search. Seventeen other people were injured in the 2022 attack.
Calvin Sanderson is chief of the Chakastaypasin Band, one of the three James Smith communities in northeast Saskatchewan.
He and the two other chiefs — Peter Chapman Band Chief Robert Head and James Smith Chief Wally Burns — met privately this week with residents and with the man overseeing the inquest, Saskatchewan Chief Coroner Clive Weighill.
They also invited CBC News to the community. In a series of interviews, they said they’re working hard to prepare residents and protect their mental health.
“The hurt is still there. The grieving is still there,” Burns said.
“I think it’s going to be very traumatic to see all of the evidence. Inquests are very clinical, medical, graphic,” Head said.
“It’s not a process that’s meant to be empathetic toward an individual. It’s a medical process that needs to be done to get to the facts.”
Weighill said he’ll do all he can to minimize trauma. That’s part of the reason he visited the community. He wanted to hear their ideas and integrate them into the inquest, which is expected to run for three weeks.
Elders and grief specialists will be on site. Families who don’t want to attend can receive regular summaries.
“The reason that this inquest has been called is to honour those people that died that day and have their story told,” Weighill said.
“Can we find something that would prevent this from happening in the future? So let’s honour the people that passed away. Let’s have their story told, put rumours to rest so people actually know what happened. And hopefully we can get some good recommendations at the end.”
The James Smith chiefs and Weighill are hoping the inquest will touch on broader issues beyond the deaths, such as community policing, the parole system and addictions treatment.
A separate inquest to examine the death of Myles Sanderson is scheduled to begin in late February.
Support is available for people affected by this tragedy. 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.
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.