Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government will invest over $20 million toward Indigenous-led community safety projects in First Nations across the country, while promising continued work toward making Indigenous policing an essential service in Canada.
The money is part of $62.5 million in federal funding Trudeau announced Monday while visiting James Smith Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, nearly three months after a deadly stabbing rampage rocked the community.
The total includes $40 million over six years that will go towards the building of a new wellness centre in the First Nation and repurposing the existing Sakwatamo Lodge to help community members heal from the trauma of the attack and other mental health and addiction issues. Another $2.5 million over five years will be committed toward holistic treatment and healing services.
“I know you’re still reeling and still processing what happened and what took place,” Trudeau told community leaders and members, who he met with earlier Monday. “And I know from the conversations I had that members of the community are still grappling with it every single day.
“All members of our communities should have access to the type of support they need.”
On Sept. 4, 11 people were killed and 18 others were injured in the community, as well as in the nearby village of Weldon, Sask., which are northeast of Saskatoon. Myles Sanderson, 32, the suspect in the attacks, later died in police custody after ingesting drugs following a four-day-long manhunt.
The slayings amplified calls for more Indigenous-led policing, and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has promised to “work around the clock” to table legislation this fall that would declare Indigenous policing an essential service.
Trudeau said conversations are ongoing with First Nations across the country to ensure any legislation will meet their needs, but did not provide an update on a timeline for when the bill will be introduced.
“We understand the pressures, which is why we’re moving quickly on supports, but getting First Nations policing legislation right at the federal level is going to take the time it takes to get it right,” he said.
“Our shared goal is to make sure that people feel safe,” Trudeau added.
The $20 million for the Pathways to Safe Indigenous Communities Initiative will be spread over four years, and will be on top of the $103.8 million committed earlier this year for the program. The initiative is designed to fund community safety plans with an emphasis on protecting Indigenous women and girls and LGBTQ2S+ members.
The top-up announced Monday will be available to James Creek and other First Nations across the country, Trudeau said.
Earlier Monday, Trudeau, accompanied by Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu, went to Saint Stephen’s Anglican Church, where seven of the victims are buried. They were joined by James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns, as well as Peter Chapman First Nation Chief Robert Head and Chakastaypasin First Nation Chief Calvin Sanderson.
The wind blew fresh snow around as Trudeau trudged through nearly knee-high drifts to get around the cemetery. He laid down tobacco and made the sign of the cross at each of the graves. Trudeau also took a moment of silence after the chiefs briefly spoke at the different locations.
Chief Burns has been among those calling for tribal policing and has also said the community needs funding for housing, especially for those reluctant to return to homes where family members were killed.
He said on Monday it was an honour to have Trudeau in the community.
“Today, we share the celebration of life that was passed in such short notice. There’s lots to learn and there’s lots to grieve,” Burns said.
On Sept. 28, Gov. Gen. Mary Simon visited the Saskatchewan cemetery where most of the victims killed in the rampage are buried, stopping a few minutes at each burial site. Simon also stopped for 10 minutes at a ditch where retired military veteran Earl Burns died in his school bus that rolled off the road after he was attacked.
Saskatchewan’s chief coroner has said two public inquests will be held into the stabbing rampage — one that will focus on the 11 deaths, and another that will focus on the death of the suspect in police custody.
— with files from The Canadian Press