British Columbia

'I've seen the destruction': Spiritual health workers aid survivors at MMIWG inquiry

DTES support worker and survivor Ceejai Julian is among dozens of women dressed in purple helping guide women and families through the public hearings.

DTES support worker and survivor Ceejai Julian among the women dressed in purple

Ceejai Julian is a cultural and spiritual health worker providing support for women and families testifying at the final public hearing at the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Ceejai Julian knows how it feels to be vulnerable.

In December, she recounted her harrowing escape from Robert Pickton's farm to a crowded room of friends and strangers at the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

For years, she felt guilty because she survived.

"For a long time I had survivor's guilt," said Julian, whose two sisters were murdered in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside nearly two decades ago.

"They've passed on, and yet, I'm still alive."

Julian says her testimony gave her strength, and now, she's wants to help other women feel empowered.

For the last week, she's provided spiritual and emotional support to women who have shared similar stories of tragedy and survival at the final public hearing of the national inquiry.

Ceejai Julian, who lost two sisters, wipes her eye during the announcement of the inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

A warrior's song

More than a dozen health workers dressed in purple have helped women and families through the emotional experience of testifying in front of the commission.

"I see what they must have saw [when I testified] — I was anxious, I was angry, I had rage, there was uncertainty, fear, and really a lot of sadness," she said.

The support team leads traditional chants of The Women's Warrior song — a song in honour of missing women across Canada. Julian uses an eagle feather to brush witnesses when they're overcome with emotion. 

She recalls how the spiritual healing made her feel throughout her journey.

"The next day, I was uplifted — I felt like I let go, like all that sadness was lifted up."

Ceejai Julian shares her story of survival during the opening remarks at the final public hearing at the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. (CBC)

'I've seen the destruction'

Julian now works as a peer support specialist for vulnerable women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, and advocates for the rights and safety of sex trade workers.

"I see the destruction of addiction, the dark road, the desperation, the struggles that people have," she said. "Being here and seeing the healing, coming together as human beings, and I ask all Canadians, please open your mind and your heart and acknowledge this issue."

The hearings, held at a Richmond, B.C. hotel, mark the final public inquiry that will take place before commissioners file their report. Over 1,000 statements have been taken.

The five-person team has requested a two-year extension from the Canadian government, but Ottawa has yet to make a decision.

Julian is one of many hoping the extension is granted so commissioners can make their way to more remote communities.

"I feel like some sort of justice must be being served through this process, because the families are different people the next day," she said.

"I get to witness that gift of them healing."

Ceejai Julian works as a peer support specialist for vulnerable women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside after living in the neighbourhood for decades. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)