Traditional medicine helps heal at missing women inquiry

From elders, counsellors and therapists, the national event includes an array of health supports

Audrey Siegl, a traditional healer and activist, is one of the dozens of support staff helping at the final leg of the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls this week.

She is one of many walking around the conference rooms at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport in Richmond wearing a purple shirt, telling the speakers at the hearing and those who are there to listen that she can help them heal.

“Everyone who wears a purple shirt is health support, and we’re making sure we’re doing our best to take care of everyone so that the mental, physical, spiritual are all taken care of,” Seigl said. “The work that people are coming here to do is very hard and heavy work.”

Alongside traditional healers, there are elders, counsellors and therapists on hand to help ease the impact that sharing past abuse and trauma can have.

Since the inquiry started in Whitehorse last May, one of its mandates has been to allow Indigenous ceremonies to take place in conjunction with the community hearings so that those testifying feel supported in a safe and healthy environment.

Some support workers, like Seigl, have travelled with the inquiry from community to community, while others are brought in to help in each city and share their knowledge of local traditional medicines and ceremonies.

READ MORE: Sharing truth with art at inquiry into missing, murdered Indigenous women

READ MORE: Missing and murdered inquiry emboldens those to move forward: chairwoman

“Every city we go to, people share medicines,” she said. “We have rat root from Saskatchewan… willow fungus from back east, we have sage that comes from a school where we were connected with when we were in Edmonton.”

Boxes of tissues with brown paper bags marked “Tears” are stationed throughout each hearing room. At the end of each day, the bags have been filled with used tissues and are collected, set to be honoured during the closing ceremony.

There’s also an elders room, where anyone is welcome to sit and relax or share with the elders from the four First Nations helping with the five-day Richmond community hearing.

Audrey Seigl wraps peppermint and lavender in cloth bags for speakers to hold while sharing testimonies. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)


Even the smallest forms of traditional medicine offers support, Seigl said, like cloth-wrapped lavender and peppermint for speakers to hold while they tell commissioners their story.

“We work to take care of as many people as possible, in as many ways as possible, so that nobody is left out.”

‘We don’t have a say in what heals us’

Seigl said she wasn’t always planning to take part in the inquiry.

“I have been been and am – along with every other First Nation’s woman – a target for over 500 years by Canadian systems,” she said, such as law enforcement and land use.

“When I realized how many of my women across Canada are coming into this looking for medicine … and healing, it only felts right to be there for the women,” she said. “Where my women go, I go.”

As the inquiry winds down with its 15th community hearing set to wrap up on Sunday, Seigl said she will finish her work feeling grateful to the more than 1,000 women who have spoken out.

“At first I felt guilty… ‘cause I thought, ‘Who am I to be healing in the midst of all this?’ But we don’t have a say in what heals us a lot of the time,” she said.

“I feel gratitude, I feel humbled, I feel empowered and I feel connected.”


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Police closed McNeill Avenue after a workplace death Oct. 20, 2020. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Tree-pruning community gathers in Oak Bay after tragic death

Crews met in solidarity at site of Tuesday incident

Members of the Sipekne’katik First Nation load lobster traps on the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S., after launching its own self-regulated fishery on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Vancouver Island First Nations back Nova Scotia’s Indigenous lobster fishermen

Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council calls for action before lives are lost

Sails down, masks up for Ron and Sherry Pryde, who completed a 119 day journey that was supposed to be 70 days. (Zoe Ducklow)
Coast Guard towed rudderless sailors to Port Hardy hours before a powerful storm

Rudderless for a month, the couple zigzagged most the way home with “a few donuts and lazy-eights”

Police in Nanaimo are looking for a woman who allegedly threw hot coffee on a McDonald’s employee. (News Bulletin photo)
UPDATE: Nanaimo RCMP still looking for woman who threw coffee at worker after already receiving refund

Police asking for information in investigation that could lead to assault charges

The Skeena Queen, serving the Swartz Bay-Fulford Harbour route has been out of action since early Wednesday morning, forcing BC Ferries to cancel eight sailings connecting the Saanich Peninsula and Salt Spring Island. It is not clear when service will resume. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
UPDATED: BC Ferries cancels additional sailings to Salt Spring Island

With repairs to Skeena Queen underway, it is not clear when service will resume

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau says British Columbians face a choice between “false majority government” and a “more cooperative, collaborative” form of governance during a campaign stop in Saanich North and the Islands Monday (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
BC Greens leader makes pitch for minority government

Sonia Furstenau calls on British Columbians to reject ‘false majority government’

The Saanich Teachers’ Association is calling on the local provincial election candidates from all parties to commit to making schools healthier and safer for all. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich teachers call on election candidates for improved health, safety in schools

Increased funding, reduced class sizes among required changes, says association president

Skiers line up to start the Royal LePage Comox Valley Snow to Surf Adventure Relay Race. Photo by Tim Penney
Popular Comox Valley adventure race cancelled for 2021

COVID forces Comox Valley Royal LePage Snow to Surf Adventure Relay Race cancellation again

Chris Istace campaigning in Crofton. (Photo submitted)
Green Party’s Istace apologizes for remark about First Nations gaming grants being a ‘handout’

Island candidate determined to do better in thinking and communicating matters of reconciliation

Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminum smelter at Kitimat competes against producers in the Middle East and Russia that have no carbon tax. (Rio Tinto)
B.C. carbon tax highest in Canada, export industries unprotected

B.C. NDP, B.C. Liberals say they’re looking at exemptions

Most Read