James Smith Cree Nation is still on its healing path
- Kerry Benjoe | September 15, 2023
It’s been a year since the James Smith Cree Nation was thrust into the national spotlight after 11 people lost their lives to violence, but the community remains committed to healing.
Every year, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations hosts a Healing Gathering in different communities and this year they chose James Smith.
Chief Wally Burns was happy they did.
He expressed gratitude for the healers, the Elders, the community and for the youth who decided to participate.
“It gives me hope,” said Burns. “To me, hope means change. If we grab it right now, I think we have resilience with our young people.”
He said the focus remains on the future and reviving the culture.
Chief Robert Head who represents the Peter Chapman band said many of the families are still in mourning.
“We have a lot of work to do in regards to healing and moving forward in a good way and a healthy,” he said. “These ceremonies and these gatherings we have here are going to help these families reach out and get some of that support they need.”
During the opening ceremonies, the police and first responders were honoured and many community members lined up to shake their hands.
It was clear from opening day the focus was on everything positive.
Hockey enthusiasts had the chance to listen to Brigette Lacquette and Ethan Bear share the highs and lows of their careers.
The pair then stayed to sign hundreds of autographs for the fans.
Lacquette said hockey completely changed her life. She was the first First Nations player to be named to Canada’s National Hockey Team where she earned an Olympic medal in 2018. Lacquette is currently in her third season of scouting for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Although she does what she loves her journey has not always been easy. Laquette spoke about the importance of mental health.
“The message to the kids was; one don’t be afraid to ask for help, and two was find a passion and do something you love to do,” said Lacquette. “Set goals for yourself and do what you can to achieve them.”
She shared the low points in her life with the youth because she believes that information is helpful.
“Life is not always going to be sunshine and happiness,” said Lacquette.
She says the resilience First Nations people never cease to amaze her and was happy to be part of the gathering.
For the adults, Tommy Bird from Southend made the trip to James Smith.
He was happy to show the people the tools he uses to tan hides and share some of the techniques he’s learned over the years.
Bird said the act of working on hides can be therapeutic, which is why he chose to be part of this year’s gathering.