Native Rights Woman Relieved as Deadline Passes for Abuse Compensation
“Blood would pour out”
By BRIAN FLINN
The Daily news
Shubenacadie’s Nora Bernard began organizing native residential-school supervisors 12 years ago.
Nora Bernard was beaten and kept away from her parents during her forced five-year stay in the Shubenacadie residential school in the late 1940s.
“Plenty of times I was caught speaking Mi’kmaq,” Bernard, 71, recalls. “What the nun would do is backhand me. A lot of times she broke my lips open, and blood would pour out.”
She remembers having to watch while her younger brother was humiliated in front of other students for wetting the bed. He would have to wear the dirty sheet around his neck while he ate his breakfast.
“What type of human being would treat an innocent little child that way?” she wonders.
Stories like hers are common across Canada. The federal government forced generations of native children to attend residential schools run by six Christian denominations. Stories of dislocation as well as physical and sexual abuse are typical of their experiences. The policy continued up to the 1960s.
An estimated 80,000 survivors are still alive.
What’s different about Bernard is she did something about it. Twelve years ago, she began organizing survivors of the Shubenacadie school throughout Atlantic Canada.
They launched a legal action under Halifax lawyer John McKiggan that ultimately merged with a similar lawsuit in Ontario. Others throughout Canada joined in.
Yesterday was the deadline for native Canadians to agree to a multibillion-dollar settlement. If 5,000 refused the settlement, Ottawa would have the right to scrap the deal. But few declined and it turned out not to be an issue.
“It’s quite a relief it’s coming to an end, especially for the elders,” Bernard said.
It’s not a lot of money compared with some other abuse settlements, she said. But Bernard does not want to wait any longer.
McKiggan said there used to be 600 survivors in the association Bernard organized. More die every year, and the number is now about 400.
Ottawa is paying $2 billion for the time people were forced to be away for their families. For the average person, it will amount to $27,000, McKiggan said. Billions more will go to victims of the worst abuse. They can get up to $250,000 for pain and suffering, and up to another $250,000 if it cost them lost income over the years.