Maskwacis is grieving the loss of five community members — including two young mothers — in a highway crash south of Edmonton.
Three sisters from Samson Cree Nation and a man and woman from Ermineskin Cree Nation were killed in the crash that happened around 4 p.m. Tuesday.
The sisters have been identified as Dominique Soosay Northwest, 19; Cheyane Soosay Northwest, 22, a mother of three young children under the age of five and Latesha Soosay Northwest, 25, a mother of a seven-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son.
Anthony Swampy, 30, and his girlfriend Terrelle Minde were also killed in the crash near Millet, about 110 km north of Red Deer.
“This is a horrible, horrible tragedy for everyone involved in the losses,” said Samson Chief Vernon Saddleback at a news conference Wednesday morning.
“It affects everyone involved. You may not know the people involved in the accident but you know the families they are attached to.
“We are an extended family community here. Everybody kind of knows everybody, so whenever we lose somebody it’s all tragic, it’s all a loss.”
Leonard Norwest struggled to speak Wednesday about his three granddaughters who were among the five people killed.
“I can’t find my words,” said Norwest from the Samson Cree Nation, one of four that make up the community of Maskwacis south of Edmonton.
The sisters were travelling with another man and a woman when their Pontiac Sunfire and an SUV collided near Millet on Hwy 2A and Township Road 472, about 30 kilometres north of Maskwacis, Tuesday afternoon.
RCMP said four of the victims were pronounced dead at the scene, while the fifth later died in hospital. The driver, who was alone in the second vehicle, suffered minor injuries.
Officers continued to investigate the cause of the crash.
Norwest said his granddaughters grew up on the Samson reserve but were most recently living in nearby Wetaskiwin. Two of them were mothers of young children.
The day of the crash, the women were on their way to Edmonton to put money in an account for someone in custody at the remand centre, he said.
Their father, Orville Northwest, was planning to go to the crash site to smudge the area to help the young women on their journey to the spirit world.
“He’s taking it hard. He was always close to his kids,” said Norwest.
This is the second highway tragedy for Maskwacis in a little over a month. Three people from the community were killed April 26 when a motorcycle collided with a pickup truck on Hwy 2A just north of the townsite.
Saddleback said he spent the morning talking to the grandmothers who lost their grandchildren.
“It’s tough. It’s emotional. It’s a really tough time for everyone.”
The families are coping as best they can, he said.
Saddleback asked people of all religions to pray for the community and those who have lost loved ones.
“Prayer is powerful. Any support that we get, any condolences, any prayers definitely are going to help the families in this tough time. So they do mean a lot.”
Coun. Kevin Buffalo, who added some of those who died had young children, said we’re in a lot of pain because they were young people.
“It’s going to be a trying time as we go through this process of grieving, but the community will come together as we always do,” he said.
The First Nation also posted condolences on its website.
“We have lost good people,” said the post. “We have good memories of them while they were with us on this Earth that the Creator made. They will never be forgotten.
“We will honour them with our feasts and round dances, and we will cry for them when we miss them dearly.”
— With files from THE CANADIAN PRESS