‘Our family is here to forgive’: James Smith Cree Nation gathers to start healing

It was cold and windy on James Smith Cree Nation as citizens and visitors gathered to begin their healing.

The journey towards forgiveness may already be on its way.

Darryl Burns’ sister Gloria Burns was one of the victims.

“Who are we as people? We’re standing here talking about forgiveness,” Burns said as he was hugging a young woman who covered her face with her hand and cried. Burns identified her as Damien Sanderson’s wife.

“I have a young lady here, her husband is one of the accused.  Her husband is accused of killing my sister.  Our family is here to forgive.

“This woman shouldn’t have to bear that kind of guilt and shame and responsibility.”

Her husband, Damien Sanderson, 31, along with his brother Myles Sanderson, 32 , were the two most wanted men in Canada after they went on a stabbing spree that killed 10 people on Sunday Sept. 4. Another 17 people were injured. Two remain in critical condition.

Damien was found dead on James Smith Cree Nation not far from what police said was a crime scene. He had wounds police said weren’t self-inflicted. What happened isn’t known.

Myles Sanderson was the subject of a four-day manhunt that left an entire region northeast of Saskatoon on edge. On Wednesday he was spotted near the town of Rosthern and ended up driving into a ditch while being pursued by police cruisers.

“Shortly after being arrested, he went into medical distress,” said RCMP Saskatchewan assistant commissioner Rhonda Blackmore at a news conference held late Wednesday evening.

Sanderson was taken to hospital by ambulance in Saskatoon, 66 km to the south where he was pronounced dead.

James Smith Cree Nation
Top row from the left, Thomas Burns, Carol Burns, Gregory Burns, Lydia Gloria Burns, Bonnie Burns. Bottom row left, Earl Burns, Lana Head, Christian Head, Robert Sanderson, Wesley Peterson.

“I can’t speak to the specific manner of death. That’s going to be part of the autopsy that will be conducted,” Blackmore said.

With Sanderson’s death so go the answers as to what sparked the attack in the first place.

But that didn’t matter Thursday on the teepee grounds of the local school where First Nation leaders, RCMP officers, and the premier of Saskatchewan all spoke about how to help the community move forward.

“I came here to personally thank the RCMP,” said Dallas Head, the eldest son of Christian Head who was killed on Sunday. “All of them. Every single one of them. They left their families behind to come and help us.”

Many said this is a watershed moment for the country as they grapple with preventing tragedies like the one at James Smith First Nation.

Speaking in a mix of Cree and English, Chief Calvin Sanderson of Chakastaypasin, one of the three communities that make up James Smith Cree Nation, said they’re having a hard time.

“It will take a while for our community to heal and we’re starting the process today,” he said. “As you can see so many tents around here and our teepees—the fires that were lit for their families will be soon be put out when we are done our grieving and say our farewell.

“It’s windy, they’re here with us. Our teepees will not come down until we’ve reached every one of our family members.”

Read More: 

RCMP releases names of 10 stabbing victims in Saskatchewan 

Suspect in Saskatchewan killings went into medical distress, died after arrest: RCMP

Bonnie Burns hailed as ‘hero’ for role in protecting family during stabbing attacks 

Earlier, during the honour song, a trio of flags were blown over by the cold wind.

While several older people rushed to set them upright, three young men came to help.

Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) called the boys to come forward because what they did was significant.

“The rebuilding and the healing and the grieving is going to begin with our little ones.  That’s what they did there,” Cameron said.  “They picked up where the old people left off.

“Our young ones deserve a better life.”

Also on hand today was RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki. The RCMP were praised for helping the community feel safe in the wake of the murders.

“Brenda and Rhonda, I know your heart is in the right place.  We see it in your eyes and feel it in your words,” Cameron said.

Policing and corrections were highlighted by James Smith Chief Wally Burns who said they will be asking governments for help in those areas in the weeks and months ahead.

According to an update from the Saskatchewan Health Authority, 10 patients remain in hospital with injuries sustained during the stabbing rampage.

Two people remain in critical condition and seven have been discharged.

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