How First Nation aid helped spur an RCMP arrest in the Jessica Cameron homicide case
'The relationship we've had with the RCMP can definitely serve as a model,' says Beardy's band member
A Saskatchewan First Nation is applauding the RCMP for its collaborative approach during a weekend homicide investigation that swiftly culminated in a man's arrest.
On Sunday, the RCMP's Rosthern detachment charged Jamie Smallchild, 25, with second-degree murder in the death of his domestic partner Jessica Cameron, 33.
After the discovery of Cameron's body in a van near Beardy's First Nation early Saturday morning, the RCMP reached out to the leadership at Beardy's & Okemasis' Cree Nation, a large First Nation located about 80 kilometres north of Saskatoon.
"I'm grateful that they reached out to us because at the end of the day, a young lady's life was taken and we want to help them do better," said band councillor Kevin Seesequasis, who handles communication for the First Nation.
"I think that the relationship we've had with the RCMP can definitely serve as a model for other communities."
RCMP texted condolences
Seesequasis said he first received a text message from the Rosthern RCMP detachment commander on Saturday. The commander expressed her condolences for the death of Cameron, a mother of seven children.
The RCMP also asked the First Nation for help, Seesequasis said.
"They have indicated to me that they are experiencing some difficulty with witnesses and their participation," Seesequasis wrote to the band's 3,000 members in a 9:36 p.m. Saturday post on the First Nation's website. It was one of four online updates given by the First Nation. The RCMP issued no press release Saturday about the investigaton.
Seesequasis's post went on to quote a request from Sgt. Dan Donison of the RCMP's Major Crimes Unit for band members' co-operation during the investigation:
"I understand that trust is important in a situation like this, and that some people are worrisome of the RCMP. But this was a mom, a sister, someone's daughter, and it is critical that we have as much information as possible to help us conclude our investigation."
Arrest made hours later
By noon hour on Sunday, the RCMP had made an arrest. Jamie Smallchild is now in custody, awaiting a bail hearing set for later this month.
"I'm grateful that our community members did step up and provide support," Seesequasis told CBC News Monday.
"I'm hopeful that our statement of co-operation and supporting the RCMP in their efforts led to more witnesses or more people coming forward," he added.
It did, the RCMP said.
"We discussed this with local Councillor Kevin Seesequasis and he greatly helped us by asking the community to stand up for Jessica Cameron," the RCMP wrote CBC in an email Thursday.
"Our members were able to work effectively with community members and to interview more and more witnesses. We are very grateful for the leadership of this community."
Seesequasis said he also hopes the First Nation's actions helped people put aside any biases against the RCMP — especially in light of recent tensions elsewhere in the province, including a June 30 incident (captured on a smartphone) of a now-reassigned Pelican Narrows RCMP officer threatening to kill a youth-aged suspect during a heated arrest earlier this month.
"Sometimes the relationship with the RCMP and Indigenous people has been strained and we see situations like in Pelican Narrows," said Seesequasis.
"I think it really makes the RCMP recognize that they do have some internal challenges and I think they look to external sources to support on how to do things better."
The RCMP said what happened in the First Nation is not uncommon.
"We need witnesses to solve crimes," the RCMP said. "It is not uncommon for people to feel uncertain about talking with the police. A call to action by a local community leader encouraging their community to help us is extremely useful in helping an investigation progress."
The way things played out this past weekend is good for Cameron's family, too, Seesequasis said.
"I don't think anybody wants an investigation of this nature to drag on for days and days or months and months," he said. "It does mean families can get closure, can seek justice, and families can begin to heal as soon as possible."
'We're going to live with the guilt'
Berni Thomas, an aunt of Cameron's who is also related to Smallchild, attended Smallchild's first court appearance on the murder charge in Saskatoon Monday.
She, like Seesequasis, remembered Cameron as an ever-smiling and warm person.
Thomas also had a wider message to share with the public.
"When you talk about domestic violence, if you know somebody that's being abused, or if you are the one being abused, get out, get help, there's resources out there," Thomas said.
"Now we're going to live with the guilt," she added. "We should have done more about her. I wish all communities would take domestic violence more seriously. And not to step back."
What police have said so far
In a news release issued early Sunday afternoon, the RCMP gave an account of its investigation leading up to Smallchild's arrest.
Early Saturday morning, Rosthern RCMP members found a green minivan in the woods near Beardy's First Nation. The minivan had minor front-end damage on it.
Smallchild and Cameron were in the driver and passenger seats, respectively. Cameron was pronounced dead at the scene, while Smallchild had only minor injuries.
"Police officers observed inconsistencies between the injuries sustained by the occupants of the vehicle and the damage on the minivan," according to the press release.
Officers then charged Smallchild with murder on Sunday.
Smallchild will next appear in court on July 23.
A forensic pathologist is expected to conduct an autopsy on Cameron later this week.