Chief Wally Burns and other First Nation leaders spoke at a gathering at James Smith Cree Nation on Thursday.
This, just a day after a suspect in Sunday’s mass stabbings, Myles Sanderson, was caught by police and died shortly after.
The event started off with a prayer calling for people to start caring for each other and to start loving each other. Drumming and singing followed.
“No words can emphasize the feelings that we’re going through,” said Burns.
“I’m trying to hold myself together with the words that need to come out.
“We ask three things of the governments. We ask that we have our own tribal policing, we ask for awareness in addictions, we ask for treatment centres.”
Burns said these acts of violence need to stop, and that it will take a whole community to back the youth.
He noted that the families affected by Sunday’s tragedy will need all the resources that can be gathered to help them heal.
“We’ve got to protect our community, fight against drugs and alcohol.”
The Chakastaypasin Chief Calvin Sanderson spoke at the event as well.
“We’re having a hard time here,” said Sanderson.
He thanked everyone who helped in the crisis, adding that it will take quite some time for everyone to heal.
“Our teepees will not come down until we’ve reached every one of our family members.”
He said they’ll be holding their first holy communion Thursday night, adding that candles will be lit after, and singers and drum groups will be coming in and out.
Chief Rob Head from the Peter Chapman Band also spoke at the event.
“We signed treaties in the 1800s, we gave up our lands, which you call Canada now, and the provinces, and we ask you Canadians, honour our treaties. Work with the government, we need help in our First Nations land to implement our own justice system, implement our own laws, implement all the things under the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that have been outlined,” said Head.
“If we did all of those things, our people would be good.”
The Prince Albert Grand Council’s Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte said they are praying for the people in the hospital after Sunday’s tragedy.
“There is an outpouring of support locally, regionally, nationally, and also internationally,” said Hardlotte.
He noted that the criminal justice system failed First Nations people.
“This incident sheds light on the fractured system,” said Hardlotte.
He said fundamental changes need to be made, as well as consultations with First Nations people, and that the justice system needs to work with their leaders.
“Our bylaws, our band council resolutions, they have to be enforced by the RCMP.”
Premier Scott Moe offered his condolences to everyone affected by Sunday’s tragedy.
“Please know you are not finding your way through this alone, we all reaching out to support you and your families through what we know is an unthinkable and senseless tragedy,” said Moe.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki talked about community-led initiatives to help First Nations communities.
“We’re increasing our Indigenous recruitment so that we can provide that structure, so that we can work together for a self-governed police service,” said Lucki.
“This can never happen again. This senseless violence, we need to work together.”
Darryl Burns, the brother of Gloria Burns, who was one of the victims on Sunday, emphasized forgiveness, saying that Damien Sanderson’s wife shouldn’t have to bear the shame, responsibility, or guilt of her husband being one of the accused. Damien Sanderson, Myles’ brother, had also been named a suspect and was found dead near one of the crime scenes.
“When I spoke to the media the first day, I spoke about her husband. And I spoke about how he was always a very respectable young man. I didn’t know any of the circumstances, but I knew him,” said Darryl.
“Our community wants to forgive her, now it’s up to her to accept that forgiveness from us.”
He said that from the stories he heard, Damien had tried to stop what happened on Sunday.
“This tragedy didn’t have to happen,” said Darryl.
He said treatment centres were needed.
“I challenge our leaders to lead our people into those treatment centres. Lead our people into the sunlight, into happiness, into safe communities. Enough of leading our people into the darkness. Enough of leading our people into the bars, and the casinos. Enough of leading our people into addictions, and tragedies such as this,” said Darryl.
He noted that in two weeks’ time people will move on, and that the cameras and politicians will leave, and that his message needs to be heard now.
“We lost a lot of good people in our community, and we’re going to mourn for a lot of years.”
“I think as a community we have to get together and make a plan on how these people are never forgotten,” said Darryl.
“And if we never forget them, maybe this will never happen again.”