Content Warning: Some details of this story may be distressing

Emotions ran high while family members of victims of the mass stabbing on James Smith Cree Nation spoke publicly for the first time on Wednesday morning.

Bonnie Burns and Gregory Burns were a mother and son who lost their lives during the tragedy.

Mark Arcand, the brother of Bonnie spoke on behalf of the family. He was joined by Brian Burns (Bonnie’s husband), Chuck Goodvoice (Bonnie’s father), and close family friend Shawn Burns, all of whom declined to comment publicly.

“A lot of people are wondering what happened and honestly we don’t know,” said Arcand who asked for his title not to be included as he indicated this was not about him it was about the family. “This is about a horrible senseless act that took our families away.”

(From left to right – Shawn Burns, Chuck Goodvoice, Brian Burns, and Mark Arcand.)

Bonnie Burns remembered as a loving mother who encompassed the term matriarch

“I want to talk about Bonnie, a member of the Wahpeton Dakota Nation,” said Arcand who went on to talk about how she met Brian Burns, how they fell in love, and how they were always filled with laughter.

“One thing I can say about my sister is that family came first,” said Arcand. “We always talk about the matriarchal society in First Nations culture and she lived that… she was always with her family.”

Arcand also speculated that Bonnie died while trying to protect Gregory and her other children.

“This is how we want people to remember her – she is not a victim, she is a hero.”

“The situation that occurred shouldn’t happen to anyone… how did this happen to our family, why did it happen, we have no answers, but we can talk about what Bonnie and Gregory meant to us.”

“The most important thing to Bonnie was the kids, she made every effort to provide for her family and was sober for the past 15 years and those are the things we want to remember.”

“We shed a lot of tears in the last couple days” said Arcand beginning to break emotionally “But at the end of the day we loved our sister, Brian’s wife, Chuck’s daughter, our niece, our nephew, our grandson because they loved us too and that is what we want us to remember.”

“We are broken, but not defeated.”

(Mark Arcand holds a photo of him and his sister Bonnie Burns.)

Arcand spoke on his experience the day of the tragedy

Arcand laid out his perspective of the day the tragedy occurred. He says he woke up on Sunday morning and had messages from his family, telling him to call and he was then informed what happened to his sister and nephew.

“I couldn’t think straight, but I went alone to the crime scene,” he said. “Driving to the community was the longest two hours of my life because I didn’t know what to expect.”

When he arrived, Arcand says his initial thought was anger.

“It is okay to feel those feelings, but those feelings aren’t going to solve anything,” he said “I did get advice from lots of elders to grieve and grieve properly.”

Arcand says the visual scene was the most traumatizing thing he has seen in his life.

“My first reaction was to go see my sister and nephew and touch them and hold them, but we couldn’t do that,” he said again getting emotional.

Arcand also spoke about another one of Bonnie’s sons who was stabbed in the neck, but survived.

“This act has destroyed our family – How can someone do this to women and children? Words can’t express the pain that we are feeling.”

Arcand says waiting for the authorities to finish their investigation before the coroner could collect Bonnie’s body was the longest four hours of his life.

“What I seen that day, I can’t get it out of my head.”

GoFundMe set up for the surviving children

Arcand says Brian Burns and Bonnie’s children don’t have access to the house because it is still a crime scene. He says they are currently left with nothing because all of their belongings are still inside the house.

In the meantime, a GoFundMe page has been setup to support Bonnie’s other children moving forward. The page can be found on the GoFundMe website under the title “In Memory of Bonnie and Gregory.”

Arcand says one of the young boys saw everything unfold and asked families across the province and country to support in any way they can.

“This is strictly for the healing of these kids that have faced incredible trauma.”

Arcand also noted that Gregory had two children of his own and a third on the way and wants these children to be supported as well.

Leaders from James Smith Cree Nation previously stopped a GoFundMe page after reaching its $100,000 goal and had asked that no more GoFundMe pages be set up. However, Arcand says they sought approval from leaders of James Smith before setting this new page up.

Moving Forward

Arcand says the next steps for the family will be to get the bodies of Bonnie and Gregory released from the coroner, so the families can lay them to rest.

“That is our next journey,” he said.

Arcand also spoke highly of law enforcement investigators who responded to the tragedy and asked the public to support them.

“We need to let the professionals do their work.”

In conclusion, Arcand wants to ensure Bonnie and Gregory are remembered and that they are remembered as heroes.

“We really want to focus on my sister and nephew being heroes – they died trying to save the rest of their family.”

A full recording of Arcand’s statement can be found here: