16 September 2022, The Tablet

First Nations leaders demand action on drugs

First Nations leaders demand action on drugs

James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns greets a victim’s family member during a Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations event where leaders provide statements about the mass stabbing incident.
Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press via ZUMA Press

Following the murder rampage in Saskatchewan on 4 September that saw ten people in the Indigenous territory of James Smith Cree Nation and the nearby rural town of Weldon stabbed to death and 18 others injured, leaders of James Smith Cree Nation have called on the provincial and federal governments to protect communities against drugs.

Rob Head, chief of the Peter Chapman Band – one of three nations that make up James Smith Cree Nation – told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that drug addiction, especially to crystal meth, is ram- pant in the community. “I can’t believe how fast it creeped into our First Nations and it took control of all of our young people that have tried it,” he said. “We’ve got to tackle it before it gets any bigger than it is now.” James Smith residents told CBC that the drug problem is out of control.

The murder suspects, Myles Sanderson, 32, and Damian Sanderson, 31, were both charged with first degree murder when they were being hunted.

Damian’s body was found with injuries not thought to be self-inflicted near a crime scene. Myles died after police forced the stolen car he was driving off a Saskatchewan highway, in circumstances that are still unclear. Royal Canadian Mounted Police say they don’t have a motive for the killings.

Parole Board of Canada documents from February this year show Myles struggled with drug and alcohol abuse in late childhood and started using cocaine at the age of 14.

The Catholic bishops of Saskatchewan offered prayers for everyone affected by the rampage, and Catholics in the Prince Albert Diocese joined the Anglican Bishop of Saskatchewan, Michael Hawkins, at a special service for the victims and survivors. The

Anglican Church presence is strong in the Cree community, which the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, visited in April. He met residential school survivors and First Nations elders but, like Pope Francis who visited Canada from 24 to 30 July, his concern was to apologise for the residential schools system that separated children from their families and culture.

“At the time, Archbishop Justin spoke in ref- erence to the experience and legacy of the residential school as a ‘living hell’,” said Bishop Hawkins. “Surely what the people of James Smith have gone through today, and are experiencing now, is a living hell.” Welby tweeted on 5 September that he was “appalled and deeply saddened” by the stabbings and was praying for the bereaved.

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