Assembly of First Nations national chief visits cemeteries, memorials in James Smith Cree Nation

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Assembly of First Nations national chief visits cemeteries, memorials in James Smith Cree Nation's Profile


Marie Sanderson adjusts the yellow flowers on an arrangement, shaped to look like a school bus. There are two in the ditch where Earl Burns died — both here to pay tribute to his role as a local school bus driver.

“I just feel thankful that he put that much toward the reserve that people came and paid their respects,” said Sanderson, one of Burns’ sisters.

“He did a lot for the community — volunteering and things like that.”

Marie Sanderson shows the flowers shaped like school buses at a roadside memorial for her brother, Earl Burns. Burns was stabbed to death on Sept. 4, and family members say he died at this spot in James Smith Cree Nation. (Sam Samson/CBC)

Sanderson and her husband started this memorial for Burns. Along with the school bus flowers, there are several bouquets, tobacco offerings and wreaths all surrounding a large white cross that has been cemented in place.

Burns was one of 10 people stabbed to death during one of Canada’s worst mass killings, which started in James Smith Cree Nation on Sept. 4. 

The two accused, brothers Myles and Damien Sanderson, are also dead.

After Burns was stabbed, his family says he tried to chase the brothers down using the school bus he drove students in. His family says he died while driving, and the bus crashed here — into the ditch.

Now, flowers, cards, tobacco and wreaths lay between the tire tracks — focusing on good memories.

“It really felt good that people came out to support us,” Marie said of the colourful wreaths other families, veterans and friends dropped off.

“That’s what our community is all about. We all like supporting each other.”

Assembly of First Nations chief visits

Sanderson showed this site to Assembly of First Nations chief RoseAnne Archibald on Sunday afternoon. The national chief was in James Smith to show her respects and solidarity.

National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations RoseAnne Archibald, stands in front of the band office and health centre in James Smith Cree Nation, Sask. (Sam Samson/CBC)

“There are many people — including leadership like myself — who are thinking about them, praying for them, wanting them to heal from this catastrophic thing that happened in the community.”

Archibald was taken to two cemeteries in James Smith, both trips private and quiet events. Band councillors also showed her where the wakes happened and where a sacred fire burned so she could offer tobacco.

Archibald said she also met with a young survivor who was injured that night.

“The atmosphere, it’s still very sombre,” said Archibald at the band office.

“So many people were killed and injured in this community, and it could take decades to heal from that.”

None of the three chiefs that make up James Smith Cree Nation leadership were present for Sunday’s visit, but Archibald will meet with them in Prince Albert, Sask., on Monday. She said they’ll discuss what the community needs next,and how she can help.

For now, she said she believes both provincial and federal governments need to provide long-term care addictions support.

“One of the things I heard throughout the day was the level of addictions and the use of drugs —  hard drugs like crystal meth that are infiltrating this community,” she said.

“They need those mental health supports”

The other type of help James Smith needs, Archibald said, is continued support from Canadians who came together in early September.

“I think it’s imperative that we circle back to the story and see how the community is doing so people who’ve expressed that great love and care from across Canada can find out what’s happening and continue to offer their support,” said Archibald.

“That is what this community will need in the years ahead.”



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