‘We grieve, and we are angry’

by | May 22, 2024

Wolastoqey Chiefs blame feds, province in wake of homicide

By John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Daily Gleaner

The six Chiefs of the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick have reacted angrily to the death of Sheri Sabattis, the sister of an Indigenous chief who police say was a homicide victim last weekend. 

In a statement issued late Thursday, the chiefs blamed provincial and federal authorities for not ensuring First Nation laws were enforced. Sabattis, 54, a member of Oromocto First Nation, was the younger sister of Chief Shelley Sabattis. 

The accused, Jared Smith, 38, of nearby Burton, is not a member of the Oromocto First Nation or any Wolastoqey community. He had earlier been banished by the Oromocto chief and council from entering the community, a measure police do not enforce. 

He made a brief court appearance Monday, but because he didn’t have a lawyer, his hearing was set aside until May 27. He remains in custody at the Saint John jail. 

“Our entire Nation mourns with the family of Sheri Sabattis for this senseless loss of a beautiful life,” read the statement. “We grieve, and we are angry. 

“As First Nations with powers granted and recognized under Federal legislation such as the Indian Act and pursuant to our inherent right to self-government, we have the right to pass laws about removing and punishing trespassers on our reserves. We have exercised this right with laws to protect our communities from criminals who bring violence and poison our people. 

“We have sought support from Provincial and Federal entities to help us enforce these laws and protect our communities, but it has fallen on deaf ears leaving us in a legal void,” the notice said. 

The New Brunswick RCMP issued a statement to Brunswick News in response to the controversy. 

Cpl. Hans Ouellette, a spokesman for the Mounties, said enforcement of band council bylaws in Indigenous communities in Canada was multifaceted and varied from one community to the next. 

“Although band council bylaws do not fall under the Criminal Code of Canada, we work regularly with Indigenous communities to identify issues of local concern, discuss solutions, and to set local policing priorities,” he wrote in an email. “As police, we have to work within the parameters of our current authorities – both to ensure investigations are conducted justly and fairly, and to ensure we have the evidence needed to support charges.” 

The spokesman for the force also said they understood frustrations about crime. 

“Every crime that is committed in a community has an effect not only the direct victim, but everyone around them – it impacts our general sense of safety. We want to work with our communities to help everyone be safe.” 

But the chiefs said they had implored federal and provincial governments to address policing and protocols in their communities for decades, to no avail. 

“We continue to seek collaboration in policing and enforcement, but nothing gets done and unfortunately, the most vulnerable members of our communities pay the price.” 

The chiefs demanded an answer from the federal and provincial governments on a plan for collaborative policing and enforcement in their communities. 

“We will not be idle while our community members suffer due to negligence, inaction, and justice systems that were never designed to support our people.” 

They also said as Red Dress Day approached on Sunday – a national day to recognize missing and murdered Indigenous girls, women and two-spirit people – they wanted justice for Sheri Sabattis and accountability from the authorities who have failed to act. 

“We demand that law enforcement seriously and thoroughly investigate this crime and prosecute accordingly.”

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