Families, communities of past Sask. tragedies offer condolences to James Smith Cree Nation, Weldon

Families and friends of past Saskatchewan tragedies, including the La Loche school shooting and Humboldt Broncos bus crash, offered their condolences and ways to help James Smith Cree nation cope with the devastating loss of loved ones.

A fish fry was held for James Smith Cree Nation community in wake of mass stabbing

woman holding a candle at a vigil
A candlelight vigil was held in downtown Saskatoon on Sept. 7 to remember the victims of a mass stabbing on James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon, Sask. Community members are receiving messages of support and condolences from across the nation. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Tragedies such as the one that engulfed James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon, Sask., can devastate a small community, something known all too well by those who have lived through them.

That's why people in La Loche, Sask., who experienced a mass school shooting a little more than six years ago, and those who felt the impact of the horrific Humboldt bus accident that killed 16 people in 2018 feel such empathy about the incident.

Tanzy Janvier, who lives in Saskatoon but was in La Loche at the time of the mass school shooting, says it's difficult for her to discuss the stabbing rampage in early September that left 10 dead and another 18 wounded, not including the two accused who also died in the days following. Nine of the deceased victims lived in James Smith Cree Nation, with another in Weldon, Sask., within 20 kilometres of the reserve.

Of the 18 wounded, 17 were admitted to hospital and as of Monday afternoon, four remain in stable condition.

While there are distinct differences between the two horrific tragedies, Janvier says there are similarities that remind her of the school shooting in La Loche on Jan. 22, 2016, that ended with four people dead, seven wounded and the 17-year-old killer in custody.

"Since then, anytime I've heard of a school shooting happening anywhere else, either in Canada or in the States, I would get these feelings of grief and just trauma," Janvier told Leisha Grebinski, host of CBC's Saskatoon Morning, last week while the accused in the mass stabbings was still at large.

"It's so similar to what we went through, where we had somebody in our own community commit this horrible thing," she said.

Church members console each other in January 2016 after four people were killed in the mass shooting in La Loche, Sask. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

'My heart … goes out to James Smith Cree Nation'

Janvier says her "heart … goes out to James Smith Cree Nation," knowing that the community "will be going up against a lot."

"I know that this is going to be an unending tragedy for them," Janvier said. "It's going to feel that way for a long time because it did for us in La Loche. It was just this sense of hopelessness and helplessness."

She said that while tragedies in small communities are difficult because of how tight-knit they are, it also helps with healing. "There was still a hug anywhere that I turned," she said of support during the victims' burials. "You could see your own grief on other peoples' faces."

LISTEN | A traumatic stress expert covers important aspects of healing after community tragedy

Host Leisha Grebinski speaks with traumatic stress expert Pat Rivard who says action must be taken now to help those affected. We then hear from Tanzy Janvier who was in La Loche during the 2016 school shooting.

Pat Rivard, a traumatic stress expert who provided support after the Humboldt Broncos Junior A hockey team bus crash, told Saskatoon Morning that it's important to "walk alongside" the community as they navigate the traumautic experience. 

"Every community has strength and the James Smith Cree Nation is no different in terms of the inherent strength they have inside their community to work alongside them and use the very capable folks in the community to help them overcome this," he said.

Rivard says people respond differently to traumatic events, and it could take months or years to heal.

Nearby nation supports community with fish fry

Tommy Bird, a Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation member from Southend, Sask., about 380 kilometres northeast of Prince Albert and more than 500 kilometres from James Smith, said his community held a fish fry on Sunday afternoon to support the grieving families. 

A person dips a pair of tongs into a vat of oil to grab a fish being fried.
A fish fry held for community members of the James Smith Cree Nation is one of the ways people such as Tommy Bird, along with other members of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, are showing support for the grieving community. (Tommy Bird/Facebook)

"For a time we changed the atmosphere from mourning, the grieving, to laughter for awhile. Everybody was happy with a smile on their face with a full belly of fish," he said.

He said showing the community that others care "goes a long way."

Humboldt Broncos victims' families offer condolences

A message posted to Twitter from Laurie Thomas, the mother of Evan Thomas who died in the Broncos bus crash, said the families of the Broncos team involved in the crash extended their condolences to the victims and families of the recent stabbings.

In their message posted Friday, the families thanked the emergency personnel and those who are continuing to assist, while also calling on Canadians who supported the Broncos families "to show the same level of compassion to our brothers and sisters from James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon."

Kaleb Dahlgren, one of the hockey players involved in the fatal crash and the author of a memoir following the crash, spoke as a keynote speaker at a professional paramedics expo last week.

LISTEN | Years after Humboldt Broncos bus crash, survivor provides insight into coping with trauma

Kaleb Dahlgren has spoken publicly about the role first responders played in saving his life. Now, he will be speaking directly to them. Host Leisha Grebinski speaks with Dahlgren about what he has learned about healing after loss.

Dahlgren has been vocal about his struggle with survivor's guilt and said when he was coping with the accident he thought about one of those who died in the crash and what he would want for him if their places had been exchanged.

"I thought about it and I was like, well, chase his dreams, follow his passions, pursue everything that he possibly can, take risks, have fun, love hard, live life to absolute fullest," he said.

"I should do this for me and all of them as well, and that's why I carried on from that moment onward."


Dayne Patterson is a reporter for CBC News in Saskatchewan and is based in Saskatoon. He has a master's degree in journalism with an interest in data reporting and Indigenous affairs. Reach him at

With files from CBC's Leisha Grebinski, Chelsea Laskowski and Saskatoon Morning