Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Emotions ran high Wednesday afternoon as chiefs acknowledged that tragedy could impact every First Nation because of the lack of local police and mental health services.
“Any one of our First Nations communities could face the similar situations to James Smith Cree Nation at any time unless serious action is taken,” said Angela Lavasseur, chief of Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation in Manitoba.
On Sept. 4, 11 people were murdered and 18 injured in a stabbing rampage in the northern Saskatchewan First Nation and nearby Weldon. The subsequent manhunt resulted in the RCMP arrest of James Smith Cree Nation member Myles Sanderson, 30. Sanderson went into medical distress and later died in hospital.
The resolution, Plan for National Community Safety Reform: Political Support and Resourcing, moved by Lavasseur, references “the recent tragedy in the James Smith Cree Nation.”
“Arguably the situation could have been less tragic if the community (of James Smith Cree) had a fully resourced First Nation police service. Adequate supports are desperately needed in all First Nations to address the serious addictions crisis of alcohol, drug and hard drugs,” said Lavasseur. “Mental health issues and the need for wholistic healing and other serious issues could have prevented this crisis altogether.”
The resolution calls for “federal, provincial, and territorial governments to support First Nations-led solutions in responding to the epidemic of suicides, public safety challenges, and substance abuse issues faced by First Nations and First Nations citizens.”
“I’m very grateful for all the support that we have across Canada. The whole world was pretty astonishing,” said an emotional Chakastaypasin Band Chief Calvin Sanderson.
Chakastaypasin Band, Peter Chapman and James Smith Cree Nation form a council.
“We don’t want this to happen again. We have other issues too that we have to deal with in our own communities that Canada created and we have to correct those wrongs from the past and hold Canada accountable to that,” said Sanderson.
“Unfortunately, it takes a tragedy for the government just to wake up a while,” said Frog Lake First Nation Chief Greg Desjarlais.
On Nov. 28 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited with community leaders, families of victims, and survivors in James Smith Cree Nation and announced $62.5 million over six years, starting this year, and $4.5 million ongoing to support the healing, mental health, and well-being of community members impacted by the tragedy.
Desjarlais acknowledged the funding, but added, “They’ve got a lot more work to do when all First Nations are crying for help.”
The resolution directs the AFN to advocate and seek resources for the creation and implementation of a Plan for National Community Safety Reform, which is intended to assess the need to provide resources and support to First Nations to address community safety, policing, and wellbeing.
Splatsin Kukpi7 Doug Thomas said it was important for the language of the resolution to ensure that all members, both on and off reserve, were included in resources and support.
“Those who reside off reserve are just as important as those who reside on reserve,” said Thomas.
Proxy Kevin Hart, former chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, echoed that the most vulnerable members were those living in urban centres, such as Winnipeg.
“Our off-reserve citizens need to be accounted for in our funding agreements if we are truly to be on a path toward reconciliation,” he said.
Sanderson also wanted to see former RCMP officers included as part of the Chiefs Committee on Community Safety, which would draft the Plan for National Community Safety Reform.
It was a suggestion supported by Okimaw Wally Burns of James Smith Cree Nation.
“What we want to do is transformation on the whole area, not only tribal policing but our own courts. And this is where I think coming to the table with a good strong leadership, comprised of former RCMP members, who can push the envelope and helping us to create something that is more unique,” said Burns.
Burns was not in attendance at the Ottawa assembly. Instead, he was in northern Alberta, where he was touring the communities that have a regional First Nations police force. He had also met with Tsuut’ina and Siksika Nations in southern Alberta. Tsuut’ina has a tribal police force and Siksika is in the process of re-instating its tribal police and has also opened a prosecutor’s office on reserve to enforce Siksika bylaws.
Burns said what happened Sept. 4 on his Nation spurred him on “in regards to the process that needs to happen.”
The resolution passed by consensus.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.