Humboldt Broncos families show enduring solidarity with James Smith’s Cree Nation

In every corner of the Elgar Petersen Arena, there are tributes to the victims of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in 2018.

Two memorial benches welcome visitors on their way to the site: one made of hockey sticks; a second, in green and yellow Broncos, reads « always in our hearts », although the message is almost hidden by two huge teddy bears.

Banners with the names of those killed in the crash hang above the ice. Behind them, a quilt sent from Alberta hangs on the wall.

During Sunday’s game against the Flin Flon Bombers, among the sea of ​​green and yellow, splashes of red and black stood out in the crowd – spectators wearing « James Smith Cree Nation Strong » t-shirts, who wanted to show their continued support after the mass stabbing in September.

« Four and a half years ago, the whole country – the whole world – showed tremendous support for the Humboldt Broncos and my family, » said Carol Brons, whose daughter Dayna was an athletic therapist for the Broncos and among those who died in the bus accident.

« So it’s important for me to be able to show that same support in return and give some hope to the families of James Smith as they go through this terrible tragedy and try to heal. »

At the game, Brons wore her James Smith Strong t-shirt, which she hopes will be « visible evidence of support from one community to another who has suffered. »

Over the shirt she wore an angel wing pendant with her daughter’s name on it.

« Across Canada, there have been many times where the Broncos have been honored at different arenas and venues, » Brons said. « I couldn’t be at most of them, but if I heard about it, it meant something to me.

« And it’s never too late to offer your condolences or show your support. I still have people coming up to me and offering their words.

« It’s just a reminder that there are people who support you and help you through the path of grief. »

Immediately after James Smith’s Cree Nation stabbing attacks, Humboldt residents held food drives for survivors and vigils for the dead. Some have visited the First Nation, finding connections through a shared tragedy and the early days of healing.

Penny Lee, Marketing and Development Manager for the City of Humboldt, says these relationships will last.

“There is definitely an invisible thread between the two communities,” she said. « We will never forget each other. The friendships we build are even stronger.

« Their tragedy meant a lot to us here, so we wanted to reach them in any way we could, and continue to do so, in the same way that people have supported us. »

Celeste Leray-Leicht remembers the outpouring of support she received after the loss of her son, Jacob, in the bus crash – including a beaded ribbon from Lissa Bear, an artist from the Cree Nation of James Smith.

And Leray-Leicht remembers Humboldt’s many trips to JSCN as a child, when her brothers played hockey at that rink, about an hour from their home.

« They’re not that far. They’re just down the road from us, » she said.

So, over the past few months, Leray-Leicht has felt « compelled » to support the community however it can.

She also wants people to know how important it is to continue to show up for grieving communities for a long time, as immediate needs give way to long-term community healing.

« I think it’s a huge responsibility of the adults in our community to show what we’re doing, » she said.

« We show up for people, don’t we? Just like people showed up for us. We were shown a lot of kindness and taught a lot of compassion.

“So we are grateful – we are sad, in the circumstances – but we are grateful to be able to do these things all the same. »

Maps and posters hang on the wall of the gymnasium at the James Smith Cree Nation Bernard Constant Community School in Saskatchewan. (Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press)

On Saturday, Leray-Leicht pulled out his James Smith Strong t-shirt and began preparing to watch the game the next day. If there was a chance to show her support and solidarity with her neighbors on the road, she wanted to take it.

« I still love hockey, » she said. « To be honest, it’s always tough going to Broncos games. I was in a stint this fall – a one-game stint, that’s all. It’s hard to get into our arena. . »

But, she said, she would be there on Sunday.

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