Saskatoon

Treaty commissioner questions 'colonial' nature of James Smith massacre inquest

The eight day of the coroner's inquest into the stabbing massacre that occurred at James Smith Cree Nation in 2022 is underway. Speakers from the parole system and the correction system talked about killer Miles Sanderson's past Tuesday.

Mary Musqua-Culbertson also skeptical that any jury recommendations will be implemented

A person walks into a building with the sun in the background.
The Kerry Vickar Centre in Melfort, Sask., prior to the beginning of the opening day of the public coroner's inquest into the mass stabbings that happened on James Smith Cree Nation in 2022. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Saskatchewan's outgoing treaty commissioner is echoing the growing concerns of James Smith Cree Nation residents who say their voices are not being heard enough at an inquest into the mass stabbings there in 2022.

"This process is exactly what it's supposed to be," Treaty Commissioner Mary Musqua-Culbertson told reporters Wednesday afternoon outside the Melfort, Sask., auditorium where the three-week inquest is examining the deaths of the 11 people killed by Myles Sanderson.

"These systems are colonial systems."

She said organizers of the inquest have made efforts to make it more culturally appropriate for First Nations people, but it's still their process. Similar comments were made Tuesday by one of the James Smith community leaders, Chief Calvin Sanderson of the Chakastaypasin Band.

Culbertson was also skeptical that any recommendations from the jury will be implemented. She said there has been a lack of progress on reports by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the commission examining missing and murdered Indigenous Women and girls.

WATCH | James Smith health director says local staff contributions not being recognized in inquest testimony:

James Smith health director says local staff contributions not being recognized in inquest testimony

3 months ago
Duration 1:41
James Smith Cree Nation health director Mike Marion said he has been frustrated by the lack of attention given to local first responders and support staff during the inquest into the massacre that happened on the First Nation in 2022. The province's coroners service says the witness list for the inquest was developed in consultation with the counsel representing James Smith Cree Nation.

Daryl Burns, whose sister Gloria was one of the people killed that day, also spoke with reporters Wednesday.

"From where I'm sitting, there's a lot of gaps. There's a lot of cracks in the services. There's a lot of things that, I don't know, maybe I'm being very critical, but I think they think there's a lot of things that could have been done differently," Burns said.

"This guy had a history and he was violent and everyone knew it. So why was he so easy to get out of the system? And why was he? Why? Why was it so easy for him to remain at large like there were so many? There's a lot of questions that weren't answered."

Burns said he understands the need for the people looking for suspects at large to focus on the most serious cases. But he said there should be more resources for all of them so things don't reach this stage.

"There are a lot more Myles walking the street. So how are we going to help them or identify them? How are we going to bring healing to those people?"

The inquest heard testimony Wednesday from parole officers and corrections officials.

Natasha Melanson was Sanderson's community parole officer when he breached his conditions and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

She said it can be much more difficult to keep up cultural practice after leaving prison, but Sanderson did. He worked with an elder, made drums and rattles, and travelled with the elder to present them to a local First Nation. Sanderson participated in sharing circles, did couples counselling and read to his children on online calls, she said.

Melanson mentioned multiple attempts she and others made to track Sanderson down after the warrant was issued.

There were no indications he was doing or selling drugs, or that he was escalating toward such extreme violence, she said.

She talked about how parole officers must balance the need to be vigilant with the need to treat everyone fairly.

"I can't assume everybody is up to no good and everybody's doing things behind my back."

The inquest began last week in Melfort — a small city about 30 kilometres southeast of James Smith Cree Nation — and is scheduled to continue until Feb. 2.  Jury members are listening to the evidence and will be tasked with providing recommendations to help prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future.

WATCH| James Smith Cree Nation inquest hears testimony from those working in parole, corrections systems: 

James Smith Cree Nation inquest hears testimony from those working in parole, corrections systems

3 months ago
Duration 3:28
Tuesday was the seventh day of testimony at the inquest into Canada's worst mass stabbing. CBC's Jason Warick has more on what the inquest heard about Myles Sanderson's past.

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 www.hopeforwellness.ca.

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Warick

Reporter

Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.

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