The recent stabbings at James Smith Cree Nation stands as one of the deadliest murder sprees in Canadian history. Such a senseless act of violence sent waves of shock and horror across the country. At least it did—for a few days. Despite the general public still having more questions than answers, media coverage has stopped almost entirely.
This is yet another example of how capitalist media ignores and minimizes the pain that Indigenous people suffer through daily. Darryl Burns, brother of Gloria Burns, a 61-year-old community worker who died in the attack, predicted exactly how things would play out. Shortly after her murder, he said “I have to speak up. I have to be vocal because in two weeks time the cameras are going to be shut off. The politicians are going to go home.” It’s tragic how right he was.
The stabbing spree took place on Sep. 4 at James Smith Cree, a band situated just outside of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. A man named Myles Sanderson wreaked havoc, killing 11 people and injuring another 18. All this in a tightly-knit community of just 1,892 people. Victims include Myles’s own brother Damien Sanderson, and Dayson Burns, an 11-year-old boy who fortunately survived. After a manhunt that lasted several days, Myles was apprehended by the police on the Sep. 7, where he died suddenly in custody.
Many questions still remain unanswered. We still don’t know what sparked the attacks or what motive Sanderson could have possibly had. Nor do we know what allowed one lone man to terrorize an entire community unimpeded for an entire day.
What is clear, however, is that the attack didn’t come from nowhere. This attack is an expression of the horrible conditions that exist in Indigenous communities. The link between violence and poverty is well established. One recent study from Denmark found that children who grow up in poverty are 13 times more likely to commit violent crimes as adults. One researcher explained that they would expect the correlation to be even stronger in countries with higher rates of income inequality than Denmark.
Indigenous people are one of the poorest sections of Canadian society. The struggle for necessities such as safe housing and clean water is well known. James Smith Cree Nation’s median income is barely over $17,000 a year. Poverty is a breeding ground for social ills like addiction and abuse, which create feelings of anger and hopelessness that sometimes explode in seemingly random acts of violence. Myles lived through such conditions himself. Parole documents reveal that he grew up around violence and addiction. He began abusing drugs at a young age, and his struggles with addiction fueled violent outbursts. If it weren’t for the horrible state of poverty on reserve, these attacks may not have happened at all.
While rehabilitative justice is the most desirable and productive way to deal with any offence, it’s clear that in some cases, people with a tendency towards violence should be isolated as long as they’re a threat to the people around them. Myles had a long history of violent crime. He had 59 prior offences, many violent, and had been known to physically attack his wife and family members. He had previously lied to the parole board and violated terms for a recent release. Myles was on parole at the time of the attack, yet his parole officer had somehow lost all contact with him.
The parole board’s handling of Myles’s case can’t be described as anything but negligent. According to parole documents, Sanderson was released from prison in Aug. 2021, but the release was suspended by the parole board a few months later in November. In Feb. 2022, the board ultimately decided to cancel the November suspension, leaving the following note on file: “It is the board’s opinion that you will not present an undue risk to society if released on statutory release and that your release will contribute to the protection of society by facilitating your reintegration to society as a law-abiding citizen.”
Saskatoon police have said that they’d been searching for Myles Sanderson since he stopped meeting with his parole officer. How they were unable to find him in a town with less than 2000 people, for several months, has yet to be explained
Frustratingly, barely any of this has been discussed by mainstream media. Few people have tried to find any cause for this attack deeper than it being the random actions of a violent individual, and media scrutiny of the police and the parole board has been flaccid. In fact, despite the many questions that still surround the case, it has almost completely disappeared from the news cycle. Compare coverage of the stabbings to coverage of the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia. Both are murder sprees that killed similar numbers of people and took place in small, rural communities. Yet despite happening two years earlier, the Nova Scotia shooting has received far more extensive and consistent coverage, with major outlets publishing articles on it as recently as early October. This isn’t to dismiss the trauma that the victims of the Nova Scotia shooting experienced. It deserves wide coverage. But the discrepancy in how much coverage an attack on a majority white community has received versus this attack on an Indigenous community should not be lost on anybody.
The James Smith Cree Nation stabbings highlight a clear bias in capitalist media. If the stabbing victims were white, there would be wall-to-wall coverage. But since these attacks were against Indigenous people, the major outlets have already forgotten about it. This shows the role mainstream media plays in maintaining bias against Indigenous people. To them, violence in First Nations communities is simply a fact of life—something to accept and live with rather than something to fight and organize against. In this way, the media serves as a pillar in the ongoing oppression of Indigenous people.