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James Smith residents look for healing on anniversary of massacre

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With a mix of remembrance and celebration, James Smith Cree Nation is preparing to mark the one-year anniversary of a tragic event that deeply impacted the community.

On Sept. 4, 2022, Myles Sanderson went on a deadly stabbing rampage on the First Nation and the nearby community of Weldon, killing 11 and injuring 17 others.

A year later, the community gathered in memorial of those they lost.

 "If you go out there, a lot of our people are happy. People are moving on with their lives. I know it's hard to forget, but we have to," one member of the community expressed.

In a close-knit community like James Smith Cree Nation, the tragedy touched nearly everyone.

Dennis Sanderson reflected on the impact.

"Hailey got away, and my son had to fight. The same way as my nephew fought for his family. War veteran; learned how to fight, and that's how he left me – fighting for his family." Sanderson said, with a mix of pride and sadness.

Hundreds have gathered at the powwow to pay their respects to those who died and celebrate the resilience of those who remain. Herbert Burns lost family in the stabbings.

"The thing is that we've been through a lot in this community. We need anything and everything to help us try and overcome a lot of the feelings that we have," Burns said.

While the community believes it is on the path to healing, there is acknowledgment that more needs to be done. Mike Mirion works for the health centre on the reserve.

"Dealing with the mental health issues in the community, and getting people into the treatment programs that they want to get into, not just individuals but the whole family. So they're involved in the treatment. And I think it'll go a long way," Mirion said, laying out the long road ahead.

The memorial to mark this one-year anniversary is scheduled for Monday, and the community remains united in their efforts to support one another as they remember and heal. 

Events began Monday morning with a pipe ceremony on the cultural grounds at James Smith, with a memorial service at St. Stephen's Anglican Church at 11 a.m., followed by a series of community events.

Media are invited to a question and answer session at 12:15 p.m., with Chiefs, elders and Indigenous Services Canada Minister Patty Hajdu, but have otherwise been asked to remain out of the community during the ceremonies and events.

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