'Be rooted in ceremony': Indigenous community offers support for Debra Chrisjohn's family

People are offering Debra Chrisjohn's family support after two police officers were charged in connection with her death.
Bridget Tolley, whose mother Gladys was killed in 2001, is embraced after the announcement of the inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The Indigenous community is offering Debra Chrisjohn's family support after two police officers were charged in connection with her death.

Chrisjohn was arrested in 2016 after police recieved reports of a woman obstructing traffic in London's east end.

She was transferred on an outstanding warrant into the custody of Ontario Provincial Police.

Paramedics took her to a hospital where she died later that night. 

Her cause of death has not been released. 

Bridget Tolley's mother Gladys was struck and killed on Oct. 5, 2001, by a Sûreté du Québec (SQ) police cruiser while she was walking across a highway.

Three months later, the investigation into her death was officially closed by Montreal police and determined to be an accidental collision.

Tolley said her heart sank when she heard about Chrisjohn.

Debra Chrisjohn (middle) died in police custody early September in 2016. She is survived by 11 children, including Deinaira Chrisjohn (right). (Submitted by Deinaira Chrisjohn)

"I know exactly how they're feeling," said Tolley. "The hurt is there, the hurt will always be there no matter what."

Tolley said that police charges create distrust in the Indigenous community. 

"We're saying 'Oh yeah, let's move forward,' but how do we move forward when we're not fixing the wrongdoing of today?" asked Tolley.

Tolley is a member of Families of Sisters in Spirit that is made up of a group of families of missing and murdered Indigenous women who hold vigils throughout the year. 

"When this happens to another family, it's them that gives me the strength to keep going because I don't want this to happen to any more families," she told CBC News

"I'm feeling for the family," said Tolley. "I want justice."

Finding peace

Maggie Cywink's sister Sonya was killed in 1994 in Elgin County. 

Sonya was 31-years-old, the second-youngest of 13 siblings when she was found slain. No one has been charged in her murder. 

The homicide case is being handled by the OPP's Elgin County detachment.

"Even if her murderer was found, I don't know after all this time if would even give me any sense of justice or closure," said Cywink.

Maggie Cywink, originally from Whitefish River First Nation, said the Chirsjohn family needs to root themselves in ceremony. (Facebook )

She said she's had to find her own peace and suggests the Chrisjohn's family do the same. 

"Grieve and cry and be angry and go through the process of grief," said Cywink, adding that the shock of the charges could take years to come to terms with. 

She said the family should go back to their roots and lean on family members as they look to heal. 

"Families should root themselves in ceremony. Find a way within their own culture to connect to what is sacred to them," said Cywink.

"There's drugs and alcohol and all the addictions that we could find that could give us temporary peace, but it doesn't last," she said, adding that there will be highs and lows during the process.

"Sometimes you slide back into the deep grief and other times you're able to move forward," said. "But even at 20 years I'm going to continue to heal for the rest of my life. It just doesn't end."