Annie Sanderson comforts her granddaughter Sept. 5, 2022, after a stabbing spree left at least 11 people in the James Smith First Nation and in the nearby town of Weldon, Saskatchewan. CNS photo/David Stobbe, Reuters

Catholic aid supports grieving community

  • September 14, 2022

Attuned to Saskatchewan Catholics’ desire to offer comfort and friendship to James Smith Cree Nation in the aftermath of the heart-breaking stabbing spree on Sept. 4, religious leaders sought to identify potential pathways of support.

“The tragic events of the past days call for a deep solidarity with First Nations,” said Regina Archbishop Donald Bolen in an email. “We can strive to be there for First Nations communities, attentive to their wounds and grateful for the beauty and wisdom of their traditions.”

Much was needed in the days following the horrific attacks that claimed the lives of 10 people from James Smith and nearby Weldon, Sask. Another 18 were injured in the attacks.

The two men accused of carrying out the attacks, brothers Damien and Myles Sanderson, also died. Damien was found dead the day after the attacks and Myles went into “medical distress” shortly after being arrested Sept. 7 following a high-speed chase, according to the RCMP.

Bolen wrote Catholics are prepared to remain present in service to James Smith community members going forward.

“If further requests come in for assistance with counselling, funerals or other specific needs, we are confident that individual Catholics, as well as parishes, would be willing to offer help.”

Devotions and affirming thoughts are being offered too. Prayers of the faithful were circulated among the Catholic parishes in Saskatchewan at Masses over the Sept. 10-11 weekend. These petitions called for healing in James Smith and Weldon.

Prince Albert Grand Council’s (PAGC) Urban Services department put out the call for volunteers to make at-home meals for the wakes and funerals being held on the James Smith reserve.  Natalie Clyke, a coordinator with PAGC, shepherded numerous daily deliveries to James Smith Cree Nation. 

“As of (Sept. 12), we have (delivered) 58 10-litre pails of soup that have gone out to the community,” said Clyke. “The volunteers have provided over 70 slabs of bannock. We’re at six SUV loads of baking — just baking. We received a large portion of cutlery and cups from the Catholic diocese in Prince Albert and the surrounding area — critical supplies that we needed.”

In addition to cooking and baking, the PAGC sought people to come to its “Moose Lodge” warming shelter to assist in making meals and packaging items for transport, a call answered in short order. 

Fr. David Reilander, president of Catholic Missions In Canada, has worked with many Cree communities, though his travels have not taken him to James Smith Cree Nation. Still, he has a sense of the difficult road of healing the community is navigating.

“As with any Indigenous community, family is primary. Therefore, this is a great tragedy for them,” said Reilander. “So many from one community is an immense loss and will take a long time to recover given the closeness of the community with everyone knowing each other. It is rare to have this kind of slaughter in Canada, especially by one of their own.”

Reilander said there are “issues to examine” in the aftermath and that he “would have to wonder about the issue of mental health.”

KAIROS Canada, an ecumenical organization advocating for social change, was encouraged by the commitment of leaders inside the federal government to support James Smith and the nearby Chakastaypasin Band and Peter Chapman Band.

“Indigenous peoples know how to build, secure and strengthen their communities and it is imperative that governments start listening, acting and strongly supporting them,” KAIROS said in a press release. “This will be a step towards healing and the prevention of future tragedies.”

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