The federal government is to spend more than $40 million over the next six years to help a Saskatchewan First Nation rocked by a deadly stabbing rampage nearly three months ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday after meeting with community leaders and victims’ families.
The Sept. 4 stabbings left 11 dead and 18 injured at James Smith Cree Nation, as well as in the nearby village of Weldon, Sask., northeast of Saskatoon. Myles Sanderson, the 32-year-old suspect in the attacks, later died in police custody.
Trudeau said the funding is to go toward building a new wellness centre and to repurpose a lodge to “address immediate needs.”
“(This) will allow the James Smith Cree Nation to design the programs that best serve the needs of its members,” Trudeau said at a news conference.
He said the government is also spending $2.5 million over five years to increase access in the community to treatments, including traditional and cultural supports, as well as long-term care of people with substance abuse problems.
As well, Trudeau announced another $20 million over four years to top up the Pathways to Safe Indigenous Communities Initiative, which supports community-based safety and wellness projects for Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ people in various communities, including James Smith.
The stabbings amplified calls for more Indigenous-led policing. Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino earlier promised to “work around the clock” to table legislation this fall that would declare Indigenous policing an essential service.
James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns has been among those calling for tribal policing and has also said the community needs funding for housing, especially for those reluctant to return to homes where family members were killed.
Trudeau said Ottawa is to continue to collaborate with First Nations to ensure Indigenous policing is recognized as an essential service.
“Our shared goal is to make sure that people feel safe,” he said Monday.
Earlier in the day, Trudeau met with Burns and council members from James Smith Cree Nation as well as leadership from the nearby Peter Chapman Band and Chakastaypasin First Nation.
“Your leadership and, quite frankly, the way the community has come together has been extremely important,” he said at the meeting.
The prime minister was draped in a blue, white and black star blanket, and given a feather blessed by elders.
Trudeau said he spoke with families about building stronger, more resilient communities to reduce the chances of such violence happening again.
Chief Burns said it was an honour to have Trudeau in the community.
“Today, we share the celebration of life that was passed in such short notice. There’s lots to learn and there’s lots to grieve,” Burns said.
Before the meeting, families of the victims gathered in the band council office, where they each had an opportunity for a private meeting with Trudeau. They shared food, including bannock. The smell from smudging, a traditional practice, wafted through the halls. The walls were covered in hearts and cards with notes of support.
Brian (Buggy) Burns and one of his sons, who was injured in the attacks, met with Trudeau. His wife, Bonnie, and son Gregory were killed at their home. Since then, he has been staying with his surviving children, a granddaughter and a grandson, in a hotel in Melfort, Sask., because they cannot return to their home.
Trudeau, accompanied by Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu, also went to Saint Stephen’s Anglican Church, where seven of the victims are buried.
He laid down tobacco and made the sign of the cross at each of the graves. Trudeau also took a moment of silence after the chiefs briefly spoke at the different locations.
Gov. Gen. Mary Simon, the first Indigenous person in Canada to hold the title, visited the cemetery at the same church in late September.
Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2022.