Community leadership, including spiritual leaders, need to come together as well, Bear says.
It could be years before the families and community members of the James Smith Cree Nation begin their healing process — and some people may never get to that point, says Andrew Bear, a Métis crisis intervention specialist based in Regina.
The community, which is made up of three First Nations, declared a state of emergency over the weekend after a series of stabbings left at least 11 people dead, including one of the suspects, and more than a dozen others injured on the James Smith Cree Nation and the neighbouring village of Weldon. The number of casualties make it the worst mass homicide in modern Saskatchewan history.
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“There’s no way that you can get into grief and loss right away because the trauma is so severe, so intense that there has to be a calmness in the community before we can even get into grief and loss,” Bear, who is also a registered social worker and licensed mental health therapist, said Tuesday.
As of Tuesday afternoon, police were still searching for suspect Myles Sanderson, 32, in connection with the stabbings. Another suspect, Damien Sanderson, 31, was found dead on the James Smith Cree Nation on Monday with injuries that weren’t believed to be self-inflicted.
“That will be the first step is dealing with the trauma. We know where the trauma is but helping the individuals that are undergoing this trauma, to find some form of peace before they get into grief and loss, the grief and loss is not going to take place right away,” Bear continued.
“We’ll be lucky if it takes place in a year because right now the community, it’s just in shock,” he added.
Bear, who is from Batoche, has been working as a mental health worker for nearly two decades with Indigenous people and communities. His concern is finding peace for the families affected. Bear has ties to the community as well, noting his adoptive mother is from the James Smith Cree Nation.
“The community is not in peace. Even if this guy is found and everything and he’s in jail, it doesn’t matter; the trauma is going to be there,” Bear said. “It’s done something to the human mind, to the body, to the whole individual. It’s done something so that normality no longer exists. They’ve lost loved ones.”
Bear said leadership from the three bands, James Smith, Peter Chapman and Chakastaypasin, will need to come together with spiritual leaders for ceremony and prayer. Resources will be needed as well, such as therapists, addictions and other mental health workers, he added.
“In our Cree language, right now we’re sitting in turmoil, we say ‘wichihin kisemanito,’ which means ‘Creator, help us.’ That’s where we’re at right now,” Bear said. “Help us come to a place of understanding, of hope and even of closure,” he added.
The situation will become even more complicated if Myles Sanderson is killed or found dead, because then there might never be answers as to why the attacks happened. If it was an issue of mental health, Bear wonders how it got to the point it did.
“When there’s mental health issues, let’s address those before it gets so big,” Bear said. “Mental health should be at the forefront in how we address community issues.”
The identities of the people lost in the tragedy were still being discovered Tuesday, but among the known victims were a first responder to the stabbings Gloria Burns, veteran Earl Burns, widower Wes Petterson and the brother of the main suspect, Damien Sanderson, who was initially wanted as a suspect and accomplice.
RCMP confirmed Monday that Myles Sanderson was not on the James Smith Cree Nation after reports of possible sightings.
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Those in the northeast in the area most affected by this tragedy can call the supports listed below to access mental health supports that may be able to assist them through this challenging situation.
Mental Health Supports are available in the North East from the SHA by calling the intake line at:
The Hope for Wellness hotline offers immediate help to Indigenous people across Canada 24/7. 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.
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