Pro­vid­ing sup­port through tears and tes­ti­mony

Tra­di­tional healer Lot­tie John­son among el­der sup­port at MMIWG in­quiry

The Victoria Standard - - Justice / Community - CAR­OLYN BAR­BER

Lot­tie John­son of Eskasoni pow­ered down her cell phone when she ar­rived at the Women’s Ec­u­meni­cal Con­fer­ence in Baddeck on Nov. 4. She just wanted to re­lax, in si­lence, for awhile.

Ear­lier that week, John­son took part in the Na­tional In­quiry into Miss­ing and Mur­dered Indige­nous Women and Girls (MMIWG), in Mem­ber­tou, which heard tes­ti­mony (both pri­vate and pub­lic) from fam­i­lies of miss­ing and mur­dered Indige­nous women. The in­quiry shed light on the mag­ni­tude of vi­o­lence to­wards Indige­nous women, and the fail­ure of au­thor­i­ties to ad­dress the is­sue.

John­son is a tra­di­tional healer who has worked as an ad­dic­tions coun­sel­lor for the last 20 years. She was called upon by the in­quiry to pro­vide el­der sup­port to those pro­vid­ing tes­ti­mony as well as com­mu­nity mem­bers who gath­ered to lis­ten.

The Stan­dard spoke with John­son about her ex­pe­ri­ence pro­vid­ing sup­port at the in­quiry and how she gath­ered strength to be present for each in­di­vid­ual seek­ing com­fort.

What was your role through­out the in­quiry?

To help peo­ple that were hav­ing a hard time, to do smudg­ing if they wanted to be smudged or if they just needed to sit there for a bit and calm down. Talk to them, spend some time with them, re­as­sure them that things are go­ing to be al­right.

Mostly, I sat with them and lis­tened.

Some­times peo­ple just don’t want to be touched. You can’t just hug them un­less they make the at­tempt to come to­wards you to hug you or take your hand. Then it’s al­right to hug them.

It’s al­most like a death and go­ing to the fu­neral all over again be­cause you open up all these emo­tions and feel­ings.

Who ap­proached you for sup­port?

A lot of the fam­ily mem­bers or rel­a­tives. When you live in these com­mu­ni­ties mostly ev­ery­one knows who you are. So, they know the el­der sup­port mem­bers there, that come from the other re­serves. It’s peo­ple you can feel safe talk­ing with or peo­ple that you know who may be able to give you some sup­port, re­as­sur­ing words.

I still know fam­ily mem­bers who never came and prob­a­bly won’t be­cause it’s too hurt­ful or painful for them to talk about it.

How do you pre­pare to pro­vide sup­port for so many peo­ple?

It gets tough. I pray be­fore­hand. I went from one thing into the next thing. I find the only thing that I have to ground my­self is to smudge. If I’m go­ing to sit there and cry with them then some­one is go­ing to have to come along and help me. A cou­ple of times I got emo­tional in there and I had to go find some­body. I told one fel­low, ‘You know what I need? I need some­one to smudge me and I need a cof­fee.” And that was it. Be­cause I was run­ning all morn­ing and it was get­ting hec­tic. I was al­most on the verge of tears and then I said, ‘No, I can’t. If I start, I won’t be of any help, to any­body.’

How many peo­ple did you sup­port over the in­quiry?

70, 80? It’s just some­thing you keep on do­ing, you go from one in­di­vid­ual to the next. I carry sage and an eagle feather. If peo­ple needed to be brushed down, I brushed them down. If I know the fam­ily and they know me, some­times it’s shar­ing sto­ries about the per­son who passed.

I was as­signed mostly in the main room where the com­mis­sion­ers were, not the pri­vate hear­ings. I did some smudg­ing with peo­ple go­ing into the pri­vate hear­ings, the ones who didn’t want it to be pub­lic just yet. These were the ones I helped smudge. When they came out from the pri­vate meet­ings, we were there wait­ing for them. I found some were rel­a­tives of mine, and was sup­port­ive of them.

I had two feathers – my mother’s and an­other eagle feather. I gave my niece a feather and I thanked her be­cause I al­ways wanted to talk about her sis­ter who went miss­ing. But I said it isn’t my story and it has to come from the fam­ily. I didn’t want to up­set them. I left it up to them. And so my niece picked it up and she went to these things, she started in­ves­ti­gat­ing what hap­pened to her sis­ter. I said, “I’m very proud of you. I know if my mother were alive to­day, she would be here with you. But in spirit, granny is here with you.”

On Oct. 28, four lo­ca­tions around Vic­to­ria County hosted si­mul­ta­ne­ous Rais­ing the Vil­lages cel­e­bra­tions wel­com­ing the County’s youngest cit­i­zens. Each child re­ceived a cer­tifi­cate signed by com­mu­nity lead­ers of­fi­cially wel­com­ing them.

"We want to put the word out to our com­mu­ni­ties that we care about our fam­i­lies and chil­dren. We want to nur­ture the fam­i­lies that are from here as well as the ones that are new,” said District #2 Coun­cil­lor Perla Macleod.

New­comer to the area Michelle Moore re­marked how the event shows the com­mu­nity’s in­cli­na­tion to make peo­ple feel wel­come.

Shayla-mae Roberts holds her cer­tifi­cate signed by Wag­mat­cook Chief Nor­man Bernard.

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