Canada: Indigenous leader calls for support after stabbing spree

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The chief of James Smith Cree Nation has called for greater resources and support, a day after the suspect in a deadly stabbing spree that devastated the Indigenous community in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan died in police custody.

During a news conference on Thursday alongside other Indigenous leaders, Chief Wally Burns said the relatives of those who were killed in the weekend attacks need the community’s help more than ever.

“Where to begin? Or where to start? I’ve been thinking for the past few days, no words can emphasise the feelings that we’re going through … No words can express anything, about the things that happened,” Burns said.

Nine residents of James Smith Cree Nation, a community of approximately 1,900 people who live on the reserve, were killed in a series of fatal stabbings on Sunday. Another person was killed in the nearby village of Weldon, while 18 others were injured.

The attacks mark one of the deadliest incidents in Canadian history, while a days-long search for one of the two suspects, Myles Sanderson, worsened the plight of families and spurred fear in local communities.

“We are here for the families, to support them in [their] time of need. My nephews lost their father, my best friend. My family … lost their sister. These acts of violence have to stop and they have to stop now,” Burns said.

“We’re here for them … We’ve got to collect all the resources that we can to help them heal.”

On Wednesday evening, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Saskatchewan, a province in the Canadian prairies, said suspect Myles Sanderson had died after being taken into custody following a police pursuit.

Sanderson’s brother, Damien, had been considered a suspect but was found dead on James Smith Cree Nation earlier in the week with injuries “not believed to be self-inflicted”.

Myles Sanderson went into “medical distress” shortly after his arrest on Wednesday and was taken to hospital in Saskatoon where he was pronounced dead, Saskatchewan RCMP Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore said at a press conference.

She said an independent, external investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident would be launched, but did not provide any concrete information about what happened or Sanderson’s cause of death.

The 10 victims of the Canadian stabbing spree (clockwise, from top left): Gloria Lydia Burns, Gregory Burns, Lana Head, Earl Burns, Wesley Petterson, Thomas Burns, Robert Sanderson, Bonnie Burns, Carol Burns and Christian Head [Courtesy RCMP/Sask First Nations Veterans Association/Facebook]

“Again, I would like to offer my deepest condolences to the families and all those affected and impacted by these events. Our thoughts are with you, and I hope that now you will be able to start healing,” Blackmore told reporters.

Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which presents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, said Myles Sanderson’s arrest would allow families and all those affected by the tragedy to “begin the lengthy process of healing”.

“Now is the time for our community [as] a whole to come together in support of the James Smith First Nation and the victim from Weldon. Together we need to support these families and these communities in their healing journeys,” Cameron said in a statement on Wednesday.

Earlier that day, authorities in Saskatchewan had released the names of the 10 people killed in the stabbing spree. Nine were from James Smith Cree Nation, and one was from Weldon.

Mark Arcand, whose sister Bonnie Burns and nephew Gregory Burns were killed in the Indigenous community, said he did not want Bonnie to be remembered as a victim. His sister was devoted to her family and “made a difference in people’s lives”, Arcand said during a news conference.

“She’s not a victim. She’s a hero,” he said. “She always put other people before her. That’s what we want people to remember.”

Mark Arcand, brother of Bonnie Burns, who was killed on Sunday at James Smith Cree Nation, holds up a photo of the two of them [Valerie Zink/Reuters]

Community leaders have said drugs and alcohol abuse contributed to the attacks; Myles Sanderson had a long history of violence, which got worse when he was intoxicated, Canadian media outlets reported.

During Thursday’s news conference, Chief Burns called for the establishment of tribal police in the community, the launch of addiction awareness programmes, and for treatment centres to be established.

“We’ve got to protect our community, fight against drugs and alcohol,” he said.

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