Families of murdered, missing aboriginal women share their stories
Published Friday, February 27, 2015 10:26AM EST Last Updated Friday, February 27, 2015 4:57PM EST
OTTAWA -- CeeJai Julian will never forget the last time she saw her big sister alive.
As they stood near the Balmoral Hotel in Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside on that September day in 1992, Norma George pleaded with her little sister to get off the streets.
"She said, 'Go home, baby girl. Go home, baby girl. Go home, baby girl,"' Julian said.
"And if I knew that was the last time I was going to see my sister, I wouldn't have let go of her."
Julian -- a former sex worker and a recovering drug addict -- was one of the women who shared her story of suffering and loss Friday at a "people's gathering" at Carleton University in Ottawa.
Across town, representatives of the federal and provincial governments and aboriginal groups were gathering at a downtown hotel for a much-hyped roundtable on the issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women and girls.
That seven-hour meeting was a far cry from the full-blown national inquiry for which aboriginal groups, opposition parties and many ordinary Canadians have been clamouring.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government has steadfastly refused to heed those calls, maintaining plenty of people have studied the problem and that the time has come to take action.
Calls for a national inquiry have been growing since RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson revealed last year that nearly 1,200 aboriginal women have been murdered or gone missing in Canada in the last 30 years -- hundreds more than previously thought.
Julian's sister was one of them.
Police knocked on Julian's door one day to tell her they had found George's body. In an interview Friday, Julian said she turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with the pain of losing her older sister.
She ended up living in the Downtown Eastside. Other women she knew disappeared, their faces appearing one by one on missing posters that lined the walls of the needle exchange she frequented.
"I started not wanting to look at that wall anymore because it's like, 'Which sister of mine is gone now?"' Julian said.
She ended up behind bars for a time. That's when she first heard the "women warriors' song" -- the same one she sang and beat a drum to on Friday morning.
Julian says she's now clean, sober and a long way from her days on the streets of Vancouver. But she still harbours a resentment for a justice system which she believes failed her and the other women of the Downtown Eastside.
She doesn't hold out much hope the roundtable will accomplish anything -- in part, she says, because the family members who were chosen to attend are only being given a few minutes to speak.
She'd much prefer a national inquiry, because it would be a way for governments to acknowledge the pain and suffering she and others have suffered -- and to apologize for not having done enough.
Above all, she said, the violence has to stop.
"It could be your daughter. It could be your grandmother," Julian said.
"It could be your mother, or the girl next door, the one that's standing on the corner at the 7-11. The one that decides to go to a movie theatre and never comes home."