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James Smith Cree Nation chief calls for drug treatment centres in wake of knife attacks

September 11, 2022

Crystal meth addiction is rampant in community, support needed, leaders say

CBC: The chief of James Smith Cree Nation and other Indigenous leaders are calling on the provincial and federal governments to fund on-reserve addiction treatment centres following the horrific stabbing rampage on the Saskatchewan First Nation and neighbouring town of Weldon.

“We’ve got to protect our community, fight against drugs and alcohol,” James Smith Chief Wally Burns told reporters at a news conference Thursday.

Rob Head, chief of the Peter Chapman Band — one of three nations that make up James Smith Cree Nation — told CBC News some of his own family members are addicted to crystal meth and require facilities for long-term treatment.

“It’s something that requires between 30 days to 90 days of treatment just to be able to get yourself back to a normal way of thinking,” he said. “Other than that, you’re pretty much addicted. If you don’t go into treatment, it’s not something that you can just quit cold turkey.”

Substance use is more common in Indigenous communities because of colonization, the residential school system and intergenerational trauma, advocates and Indigenous leaders say.

Drug addiction, especially to crystal meth, is rampant in James Smith Cree Nation, according to Head.

“I can’t believe how fast it creeped into our First Nations and it took control of all of our young people that have tried it,” he said. James Smith residents have also told CBC that the drug problem is out of control. “We’ve got to tackle it before it gets any bigger than it is now,” Head said. 

James Smith Cree Nation doesn’t have any facilities that can provide long-term support to people struggling with a crystal meth addiction, according to Head. 

The community has Sakwatamo Lodge, which is a 42-day residential treatment program. “We need like 30 days, 60 days, 90 days of detox just to get people back to normal and then they have to go into to therapy and treatment. And those kinds of things are not here in First Nations country,” Head said.

There are 10 treatment centres in Saskatchewan specifically for First Nations people, according to the Government of Canada website. 

Alleged assailant’s long drug history

One of the alleged assailants in a violent string of stabbings over the Labour Day Weekend had a long history of drug use, as documented in court records. Parole Board of Canada documents from February of this year reveal that Myles Sanderson, 32, struggled with drug and alcohol use in late childhood and started using cocaine at age 14.

RCMP say they don’t yet have a motive for the killings and may never get one, now that he’s dead. 

Relatives of victims of the mass stabbing that occurred on James Smith Cree Nation, Sask., over the Labour Day weekend hug after a news conference in Saskatoon on Wednesday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The attacks left 10 dead and 18 others injured. Those tallies don’t include Sanderson or his brother Damien, 31, who also died. Both were charged with first-degree murder. 

On Tuesday, Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu said on social media that the government is committed to “advancing the immediate, medium, and long-term goals and needs” identified by James Smith Cree Nation.

Everett Hindley, provincial minister of mental health and addictions, said on Wednesday that he had met with Indigenous leaders in multiple communities to discuss ways to tackle mental health and addictions challenges, and will work with Ottawa on the matter.