JAMES SMITH CREE NATION — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the graves of victims of a deadly stabbing rampage at a Saskatchewan First Nation last week before he was to meet with family members in private.
The Sept. 4 stabbings left 11 people dead and 18 injured in James Smith Cree Nation, as well as in the nearby village of Weldon, Sask., northeast of Saskatoon. The suspect in the attacks, 32-year-old Myles Sanderson, died in police custody.
The prime minister was also scheduled to spend part of the day in meetings with leaders and community members. He was to make a public announcement in the afternoon.
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.
Gov. Gen. Mary Simon, the first Indigenous person in Canada to hold the title, visited the cemetery at the same church in late September.
The stabbings 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.
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.
Saskatchewan’s chief coroner has said two public inquests will be held into the stabbings — one that will focus on the 11 killings, and another that will focus on the death of Sanderson in police custody.