Warning: This article contains disturbing details.
Nicole Moostoos woke up to her daughter running into her bedroom crying.
“She told me my mother and Creedon had been stabbed.”
It was 6 am on September 4. Moostoos, 41, jumped in fear, threw on some clothes, and ran out the door.
She had visited her mother, Arlene, on the James Smith Cree Nation countless times before.
This time she ran.
“As I ran, there were dead bodies on the ground.”
With tears in her eyes, Moostoos remembers passing the house where Bonnie Goodvoice-Barnes lived with her family.
The yard has become a crime scene.
The Goodvoice-Barnes family said the woman died trying to save her son Gregory, known as Jonesy, during a stabbing in the community.
A community crisis responder, Gloria Barnes, was also killed trying to help them.
Moostoos said he wanted to administer CPR or some other form of assistance, but a woman at the scene said it was too late.
“They’re already gone.”
Moostoos continued towards her mother. A friend picked her up on the way.
She thought her mother, 65, would already be in an ambulance on the way to hospital, but when Moostoos arrived, her mother and her younger brother Creedon, 26, were lying on the ground injured.
They were told the paramedics couldn’t get there because the RCMP told them to stay put.
Waiting for help at the band office
They take Moostoo’s blood mother and brother and bring them to the band’s office, which has a health clinic inside.
They wanted to take the victims to the hospital but had no choice but to wait for the ambulances.
With so many people injured, paramedics had to perform triage and wait for direction from the RCMP. The policemen responsible for these attacks are believed to be still absconding.
“I told them to take my mother, take my mother,” said Moostoos.
“At least take Creedon. Come on!”
Moostoos sat in the band’s office holding her mother’s injured stomach.
“She asked me to lie there and pray with her.”
Moostoos said people in the band office worked to keep the injured calm amid the chaos.
More people keep showing up with injuries. Slowly Moustoos began to understand how widespread the pain was.
“People keep coming and telling me who’s gone, and it’s unreal. Unreal,” she said.
It felt like a nightmare.
“You wake up the next day and you think it was a bad dream and it all comes rushing back.”
Ten people died during the rampage in the small community where basically everyone knew each other and nearby Weldon, Sask.
Moostoos said, “Except that old man at Weldon, God bless his soul.”
She also knew the suspects, Miles and Damian Sanderson, since they were children.
Damien, 31, was found dead near one of the 13 crime scenes the day after James Smith attacked the Cree Nation. Police said his injuries do not appear to be self-inflicted.
His brother Miles, 32, was arrested after an extensive three-and-a-half-day manhunt, but he was pronounced dead in hospital after what RCMP described as medical distress.
A targeted home
Miles Sanderson has threatened the Moostoos family before.
Moostoos said one of her brothers, who worked at a local store, took a gun and threatened to hurt her family.
“He said he would burn the house down while we were at home.”
They filed a police complaint against him.
Documents from the Parole Board of Canada revealed in 2017 that Sanderson “got into an argument with a First Nation band store employee, tried to fight the victim, and then threatened to kill him and burn down his parents’ house”.
“My mom was so scared,” Moostoos said.
Some relief came after Miles was arrested and jailed in 2018.
But on September 4, months after falling off authorities’ radar, he came for her family.
“He opened the door,” Moostoos said.
The brother who had previously bullied Miles was not home at the time. Moostoos said her mother was sleeping when Miles entered her bedroom.
“My mother was already scared [Myles]And for her to wake up and see him standing there…”
Moostoos paused, struggling for words to describe the terror of the moment and the injuries her mother had sustained.
“But my mother is a strong woman. I know her heart. She will learn to forgive,” she said.
Moostoos said forgiveness is important in his family. Her mother, Arlene, survived the former Muscowequan Indian Residential School.
“She won’t allow it [violence] Take over her house because she has memories with my father.”
They lost her father in March, a residential school survivor.
Moostoos couldn’t fathom losing her mother too.
Since the attacks, Moostoos has been staying in Saskatoon with her mother and brother, both of whom require intensive care at the hospital.
We are strong, resilient people at James Smith, and I see that every day.– Nicole Moostoos
So far, she has only returned to the James Smith Cree Nation to attend funerals and wakes.
She is survived by her “sis”, Carol Burns, her nephew Thomas (Carol’s son), Bobby Sanderson (the father of her two children), her cousin Earl Burns Sr. and Christian Head. As a chicken, she is a father to a niece and nephew.
“It didn’t really hit me until I got there and said goodbye.”
Moostoos is grateful that her mother and brother have recovered physically.
Her mother is still in the hospital, one of the last survivors is still in care, but they hope she will be released this week. Creedon was released Thursday after defending his mother the night she was attacked in her bedroom.
“He can protect a family quickly, that’s for sure. He has a big heart,” Moostoos said.
Ongoing support is required
Moostoos worries for children, nieces, nephews and nieces who have seen their loved ones crippled.
“It’s too much for the people who saw it. It’s too much for the people who were there.”
The support provided immediately after a tragedy — prayers, donations and help on the ground — is critical, Moostus said.
She said the support should continue. Community members need long-term help from professional mental health workers, elders, police and leadership to heal, she said.
She hopes the tragedy will force people to address other chronic issues, many of which are tied to intergenerational trauma.
“We’re trying to be cycle breakers, because residential schools certainly did a lot on us.”
While Moostoos is still upset about what happened, Sanderson says she’s not angry with the family.
“I feel for Miles and Damian’s family,” Moostoos said.
“I pray for them. I reach out to them and tell them I’m here for them and not to take the blame.”
Moostoos believes that drugs are partly to blame for this deadly destruction.
She said that the youth is being harassed.
We have to put our foot down on the people who are selling drugs. She said nothing can be done when they are known to be drug dealers.
“Those people relate to certain people, they don’t want to be bothered with it or they sweep it under the rug.”
A beautiful reserve
Moostoos says James Smith is a beautiful reserve full of good, kind people.
But she said pest problems like addiction must be addressed to prevent further injury.
“We are strong, resilient people at James Smith, and I see that every day. I see it at wakes, at funerals, we all come together,” she said.
“But this didn’t happen. None of this should happen.”
Support is available for anyone affected. You can speak to a mental health professional through Wellness Together Canada by calling 1-866-585-0445 or texting Wellness for Youth to 686868 or Wellness for Adults to 741741. It’s free and confidential.
The Hope for Wellness Hotline provides immediate assistance to Indigenous people across Canada. Mental health counseling and crisis support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-855-242-3310 or via online chat www.hopeforwellness.ca.