Federal funding for James Smith Cree Nation sparks hope for healing, change in wake of mass stabbings

People affected by the mass stabbing at James Smith Cree Nation are hopeful new federal funding will help the community heal — and prevent a future tragedy.

Community members emphasize need for urgency, transparency

From left to right, Peter Chapman Band Chief Robert Head, James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stand in front of a grave of one of the victims of the mass stabbing incident at James Smith Cree Nation, Sask., on Monday. (Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press)

Darryl Burns was overwhelmed by joy and excitement when he heard the prime minister promise extensive support for James Smith Cree Nation at an announcement on Monday.

It gives him hope for the future in a time of darkness.

"Everyone in Canada, maybe the world, is looking at us because we're a place of grief, we're a place of tragedy, we're a place of suffering," Burns said.

"Maybe we can be the model of recovery."

Millions of dollars has been dedicated to helping community members heal and move forward from the violent stabbing assaults in September.

It also involves initiatives to prevent future violence. 

Nearly three months ago, 10 people were killed and 18 others were physically injured on James Smith Cree Nation. One man was also killed in the nearby village of Weldon, Sask. 

Police have determined Myles Sanderson did all of the killing. He died shortly after being brought into police custody. 

Darryl's sister, Gloria Burns, was killed during the stabbing rampage. She was a community crisis responder who died trying to save other victims.

Since the devastation, Darryl has repeatedly emphasized the need for more support and resources in the community to address addictions, violence and other issues stemming from intergenerational trauma.

'We have to start planning'

After paying respects to the victims and their relatives on Monday, Justin Trudeau announced $42.5 million for James Smith Cree Nation.

Part of the money will be used to build a new wellness centre in the community and repurpose the existing Sakwatamo Lodge, a 42-day residential treatment program for alcohol and drugs.

The federal government said the money will be used to create access to culturally relevant, trauma-informed programming — critical for well-being and recovery. 

Some will be used to support James Smith Cree Nation in the development and design of programs tailored for its members.

Darryl said he feels like his concerns and cries for help have been heard. With funding on the way, he said the ball is now in the community's court to hash out details and a plan.

"We have to start planning, we have to start getting everything in place because regardless of when that money gets here, we know it's coming," he said.

"We can start figuring out how, how are we going to do this, before the money comes. So when it does come, we're ready, we're mobile. We're in action." 

Darryl Burns, right, puts his arm around Skye Sanderson during a news conference at James Smith Cree Nation on Sept. 8, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

At the funding announcement, Chief Wally Burns said the community must come up with a strategic plan to implement these initiatives.

"Working together, and in collaboration with level of governments, I think our timeline starts right now and hopefully next year we get something on the ground, and from there hopefully the minister and prime minister are here to cut the ribbon with us." 

With no firm timelines set, Deborah Burns said she will be watching closely to make sure the funding is used properly. 

She wants leadership to be transparent about ​how the money ​dedicated to the community because of the tragedy is used. 

Her dad, Earl, and her mom, Joyce, were both attacked during the stabbings. Her father, a residential school survivor, did not survive. 

Programs dedicated to reintegrating people into the community from the criminal justice system would be key to the community, she said. 

She also hopes ​leadership sees the need for ​addictions and violence prevention programming targeted at youth, parents and families​, she said in an online message.

At Trudeau's announcement, John Kelly Burns clutched a photo of his slain mother, Carol, and his younger brother, Thomas close to his heart.

Holding their images close eases the tremendous pain felt by their absence, he said. John Kelly said the funding is a good step forward, but he worries the government promises doesn't address some core issues in their community.

"It helps, but we still need a lot better responses from the [first-responders] that we request help from."

John Kelly Burns, centre, holds a photograph of Carol and Thomas Burns, as Kelly Burns, left and Janelle Kinch, right, stand for a photograph Monday at James Smith Cree Nation, Sask. (Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press)

Trudeau said Monday that work is ongoing to have First Nations-led policing considered an essential service in Canada. 

Breaking generational cycles 

As that federal work is underway, Darryl Burns said it's critical that his community uses resources to create a healthier community for the sake of future generations.

Darryl said he's seen firsthand how colonialism and intergenerational trauma have led people astray. 

"This tragedy was a reminder that our past, our history, is causing all this pain, so we deal with the history, we deal with the past, we move beyond," he said.

"We don't want to keep retraumatizing our children with the residential school issues, so if we can heal ourselves … we don't have to pass it on." 

Darryl knows healing is possible. He's overcome his own demons, now marking 38 years of sobriety.

He preaches the importance of forgiveness, and plans to be on the front lines in helping his community heal once he addresses his own grief from the loss of his sister.

"I'm trying to get my head back on straight, because I know that in order for me to be an effective helper to the people that I serve, I have to be healthy," he said.

Darryl said conversations with health-care providers and elders are helping. 

He also relies on the Creator. 

"I smudge, and I pray and I'm trying my best," he said. "I'll never, ever, fully 100 per cent recover from this, but I can become stronger and deal with it in a good way."


Kendall Latimer


Kendall Latimer (she/her) is a journalist with CBC News in Saskatchewan. You can reach her by emailing