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.
“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.”