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James Smith Cree Nation community hopes stabbing inquest brings support and healing

The Saskatchewan coroner’s inquest into the 2022 mass murders on James Smith Cree Nation and the community of Weldon began on Monday in Melfort, Sask.

Eleven were left dead at the end of Myles Sanderson’s three-day stabbing rampage in September of 2022.

Click to play video: 'James Smith Cree Nation community hopes stabbing inquest brings support and healing'

James Smith Cree Nation community hopes stabbing inquest brings support and healing

The inquest will dive deep into the traumatic events surrounding each death and is expected to last from 12 to 15 days.

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Darryl Burns of James Smith Cree Nation lost his sister Lydia Gloria Burns to the stabbings.

He said he hopes the inquest will result in changes and support for individuals in the community suffering from addictions and intergenerational trauma.

“We can prevent people from feeling that trauma and that pain and all of that anger in their hearts,” Burns said. “Maybe another Myles will not be created again.”

According to Burns, addictions and drug use are getting worse year over year in the community.

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“We are turning a blind eye to the real issue. We are doing a lot of things but not addressing the real issue.”

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Burns said the inquest is an important step in healing for all of the community members affected.

“In order to move forward and help along my healing journey, I have to stay with this trauma until it is done.”

Burns said that while the inquest will be healing for some, it can be retraumatizing for others.

“They are not dealing with this in a positive way. They are self-medicating with their addictions. When you do that you are only numbing the pain. When the high is gone the pain will return.”

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A random jury was selected Monday morning, whose role will be to listen to the evidence brought forward by the 32 testimonies that are scheduled and come up with recommendations.

Chief coroner of Saskatchewan Clive Weighill said he has been preparing the victims’ families for the last year and a half.

“It’s been really heartfelt to listen to their stories, to listen to their pain and try to help the community through this,” Weighill said Monday morning 15 minutes before the inquest started.

He said the inquest is intended to honour the victims killed, tell their stories and come up with policing recommendations so a similar event doesn’t strike another rural community.

“There is not going to be a trial so this is the only way that the families and the public can hear exactly what happened.”

Testimonies will come from members of the RCMP, Corrections Canada and the Parole Board of Canada, as Sanderson was out on parole months before the murders.

Members of the parole board are scheduled to tell the public why Sanderson was given parole, even with a violent history and 78 previous convictions.

Burns said he’s not sure the details from the parole board are important.

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“We have so many people who are incarcerated or in trouble with the law. How is this going to change their life?”

He said the federal dollars spent by the parole board could be matched by the province and spent on helping youth address their trauma.

Family members of the victims and other members of James Smith Cree Nation and the community of Weldon will also be testifying over the course of the next two to three weeks.

Weighill said the full investigation had to come in before the inquest happened so disclosure could be given to family of the victims beforehand.

“We’ve never held an inquest of this size before in the province – I don’t think in Canada either. For a coroner’s inquest, it has been put together quickly, the RCMP investigated and did a thorough job.”

Burns said even after the inquest, the trauma from residential schools, colonization and violence needs to be addressed for the community to be able to move forward.

“Our people are not changing because they cannot see the change. If our people wanted to change, our youngest ones would see that.”

He said he hopes to see recommendations come forward with a strong intent of supporting individuals with addictions.

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“We are always given false hope and everything has fallen through. Our people have to live with that.”

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