M​an who lost wife, son in ​mass ​stabbing​ feels mixed emotions about new home on James Smith Cree Nation

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Brian (Buggy) Burns is grateful for his new home on James Smith Cree Nation, but the move is not without complicated feelings of pain and loss. 

“It’s full of mixed emotions,” Burns said, taking a short break as he hauled furniture inside. 

He’s haunted by what happened in his old home, which is not far from his new place. His old home is where his 48-year-old wife Bonnie and his 28-year-old son Gregory were stabbed to death in a murderous rampage last year. Burns’s 14-year-old son was also attacked, but survived.

Burns and his family have been living in Melfort, Sask., since the attacks, leaving their bloodied home behind. The James Smith Cree Nation housing department gave Burns the keys to his new place late last week. 

He would have preferred to move to Saskatoon and start fresh there, but Burns said his three sons, aged 14, 11 and 9, wanted to go back and be with their friends. The community is all they’ve ever known. 

“I’ve got to try it for my boys, you know, be strong,” he said. “It’s about them. It’s not about my needs.” 

A red truck that has a trailer attached to it is parked in front of a one-storey home, with two doors, on James Smith Cree Nation.
Brian (Buggy) Burns’s new home on the James Smith Cree Nation. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

On Sept. 4, 2022, a 32-year-old community member named Myles Sanderson committed a massacre with a knife, killing 11 people and wounding 17 others in the First Nation and the nearby town of Weldon. After the tragedy, Burns and his surviving family members spent months living in a hotel.

He was grateful they found a rental place in time for the holidays. They decorated the space and celebrated a home-cooked meal — trying to create some feelings of normalcy, although Burns didn’t have it in him to make pies this year. 

“[Bonnie] used to love my pies and my heart just wasn’t in it,” he said. “We all cried Christmas morning.” 

As Burns moved into the new home, it was impossible not to think about Bonnie. He said he misses their conversations in the kitchen during the early morning hours the most. 

“It’s hard for me because, you know, me and Bonnie were here for so long — and the memories, they still hurt.” 

Bonnie Goodvoice-Burns, 48, has been identified by Saskatchewan Coroners Service and RCMP as one of the deceased.
Bonnie Burns was a ‘mama bear’ committed to helping others, her husband says. (Saskatchewan Coroners Service/RCMP)

At one point, Burns wanted to burn down the old home where his loved ones were killed. He doesn’t want that anymore. Some of his relatives are living in it because they need a place to stay and Burns is glad to help them. 

He said his wife Bonnie was committed to helping out others, often opening up her home for foster kids or people who needed a place to stay. 

“She had a big heart. Mama bear,” Burns said. “She was such a caring woman.” 

And he’s content knowing the home will eventually be moved off the land. 

“They’re going to move it so we can put up a monument for Gloria, Bonnie and Jonesy [Gregory].” 

Gloria Lydia Burns was a member of James Smith Cree Nation who died outside the Burns’s family home while trying to help Bonnie, who had called for help. 

A man wearing a ballcap and glasses looks out into the distance.
Burns is moving into his new home with mixed emotions. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

The trauma from the tragedy has been felt deeply by Burns, but he’s especially worried for his 14-year-old son who survived the stabbings. 

He said his son is still showing signs of intense stress, fear and anxiety, and he hopes the move might help. 

“He’s not really talking to the therapist, so that kind of worries me a bit, in the back of my mind,” Burns said. He said his therapist has recommended some exercises to try to use with the teen, but Burns is struggling to get through them. 

“He used to open up to his mom. I was the discipline guy and she was the one that was caring, and now it’s hard to be — I try to do both roles at once, to be a mother and a father,” he said. 

Burns is trying his best to make sure his sons don’t feel alone. 

“I tell them I love them every morning … tell them good night, I love them.” 

As he tries to work through his grief, he said there are a few small moments he’s looking forward to this summer. He’ll be taking his sons around with him to horse races. 

“They’re excited about following me around this year racing, because they usually just stay home and go on the pow wow trail with their mom,” he said.

Burns will take them to some pow wows this year in honour of their mom, and in their new home he plans to hang one of Bonnie’s ribbon skirts alongside photos showing their most cherished memories. 

Support is available for anyone affected. You can talk to a mental health professional via Wellness Together Canada by calling 1-866-585-0445 or text WELLNESS to 686868 for youth or 741741 for adults. It is free and confidential. 

The Hope for Wellness hotline offers immediate help to Indigenous people across Canada. Mental health counselling and crisis support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.

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