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Partner of killer in James Smith Cree Nation mass stabbing expected to speak at inquest Thursday

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

The partner of Myles Sanderson, the man responsible for the 2022 James Smith Cree Nation mass stabbing, is expected to speak Thursday at a coroner’s inquest examining the deadly rampage.

Sanderson’s partner, Vanessa Burns, is among the James Smith community members expected to testify as the inquest enters its fourth day.

The coroner’s inquest is examining the fatal stabbings in Saskatchewan on Sept. 4, 2022, when Sanderson killed 11 people — 10 in James Smith Cree Nation and one man in the neighbouring village of Weldon — and injured 17 others.

Sanderson, 32, died in custody shortly after police arrested him on Sept. 7, 2022.

The faces of 11 people, with names and ages when they died, are all in one image.
11 people were killed in the Sept. 4, 2022 stabbings. Most were from James Smith Cree Nation. One man was from Weldon, Sask. (CBC)

The inquest began on Monday in Melfort — a small city about 30 kilometres southeast of James Smith Cree Nation — and is scheduled to continue until Feb. 2. It is not meant to assign legal responsibility for the deaths, but its six jury members will be tasked with providing recommendations to help prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future.

On Wednesday, RCMP Const. Tanner Maynard testified about his experience as one of the first officers to arrive at the scene. It was the first time the inquest had heard from a responding officer.

He spoke about the continuous reports of attacks that were coming through his radio as he drove from one house to another.

Approximately 50 RCMP officers descended on James Smith. A police plane was sent from Saskatoon. Ambulances arrived from Melfort, Prince Albert and elsewhere. An armed conservation officer provided security at the band office so RCMP could search for suspects and accompany medical staff.

“There were vehicles coming from everywhere. There were people grieving, people screaming in pain,” Maynard testified.

Earlier Wednesday, Maynard testified that the day before the stabbings, he met Damien Sanderson — Myles’s brother — but didn’t realize that’s who he was speaking to at the time.

Maynard was looking for Damien after a vehicle had been reported stolen by Damien’s ex-partner. Maynard testified that  Damien gave him a false name.

Damien Sanderson later became his brother’s first victim.

RCMP officers also spoke Wednesday about the local mistrust of RCMP in James Smith Cree Nation. A local security force at the First Nation says communication has improved with the police force since the stabbings. 

During the first two days of the inquest, RCMP Staff Sgt. Robin Zentner summarized the killings and the hours leading up to them, including audio of 911 calls, text messages, accounts of each killing and graphic crime scene photos.

Support is available for people affected by this tragedy. The Hope for Wellness hotline offers immediate help to Indigenous people across Canada. Mental health counselling and crisis support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at

You can talk to a mental health professional via Wellness Together Canada by calling 1-866-585-0445 or text WELLNESS to 686868 for youth or 741741 for adults. It is free and confidential.

Talking Stick is a Saskatchewan-based free anonymous chat platform that connects people seeking emotional support to a trained Indigenous peer advocate 24/7.

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