The Burns Way
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Photo: Mrs. Joyce Burns with Governor General Mary Simon and her brother, CAF veteran Victor Sanderson.

The widow of Earl Burns Senior, Joyce Burns, says it was a joy and honour to meet the Governor General of Canada at a prestigious reception at Government House in Regina.

“You get a good feeling from her. I can tell she’s a warm and kind person who cares and really cares about veterans too,” said Joyce Burns.

Joyce Burns and her brother Victor Sanderson were among the dignitaries, politicians, military personnel, philanthropists, and renowned artists invited to meet Her Excellency, the Right Honorable Mary Simon, on April 22, 2024, during her first official visit to Saskatchewan.

Simon is the 30th Governor General of Canada and the first Indigenous woman to receive the title.

Joyce Burns is a Cree woman from James Smith Cree Nation, Sask. and the widow of the army veteran Earl Burns Sr. He served with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry; a Canadian Army regiment headquartered in Western Canada.

Earl Burns, 66, died trying to stop a man on a stabbing rampage in James Smith Cree Nation on September 4, 2022. Eleven people died in the attack, and 18 others were injured, including his wife Joyce Burns. She was stabbed several times and sustained life-threatening injuries to her abdomen, face, and neck.

“He’s my hero,” said Joyce Burns. Joyce still lives in the First Nation and says she’s chosen to forgive the perpetrator and to be a positive example for others affected by the massacre.

She credits her husband with saving her life and chasing the attacker away from her and her grandchildren and other children who were sleeping in their home. Earl fought the attacker and chased after him in the school bus he used for his job with the local school. He died in the bus, only a few kilometres from their home, from injuries sustained in the assault.

Joyce’s younger brother, Victor Sanderson, is also a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces. He says Earl encouraged him to enlist and credits the military as a positive, character-shaping experience.

Sanderson says meeting the Governor General in person alongside his older sister was a privilege.

“They’re both Indigenous women from the same generation, so when they met, they stood there smiling at one another and exchanged a few words. And then, when Joyce gave the Governor General her gift, she gave her a thank-you hug; that was special to see,” Sanderson said.

Simon was one of the first dignitaries to visit James Smith Cree Nation in person immediately after the tragedy in 2022. During her visit, she met with James Smith’s leadership and laid flowers at the graves of victims.

The heroic story of Earl Burns Sr. inspired TryCycle Data Systems, an Ottawa-based app developer, to name a new app for Canadian veterans after Earl Burns Sr., The Burns Way.