Tributes to Nora Bernard Flowing In

Residential school survivor : Activist was ‘our voice’

Truro Bureau

December 30, 2007

TRURO — Tributes continued pouring in for Nora Bernard on Saturday as police continued investigating the death of the Mi’kmaq activist .

Truro police said it will likely be Monday before they release any new information in the case.

Nora Bernard, 72-year-old member of the Millbrook First Nation, who fought for compensation and justice for the survivors of Indian residential schools, was found dead in her Truro home Thursday morning.

Police suspect foul play but have released no other information.

Tributes were being paid to the woman described as a trailblazer and true pioneer.

” Nora was our voice until such time as we could speak for ourselves,” wrote a member of an online Facebook group established Friday by residential school survivor Amber O’Hara of Toronto.

“Without her, so many residential school survivors would have continued to be silenced about our abuses we suffered,” the contributor wrote. “With her help we became survivors, no longer victims.”

Ms. O’Hara said in an e-mail interview on Saturday she launched the Facebook group, titled In Loving Memory of Nora Bernard, because she wanted to remember “an amazing woman, a kind, caring and giving elder who did so much in her fight for justice for Indian residential school survivors.”

Most comments on the Facebook group’s site are from across Canada.

“She was a trailblazer in her fight for justice for so many,” one Toronto woman wrote.

“May her memory be honoured and cherished and may you take comfort in the knowledge that she helped so many people.”

Ms. O’Hara said the survivors of the more than 70 residential schools live across Canada, so she assumes that as word spreads of Ms. Bernard’s death more people will join her group.

One man in the group called Ms. Bernard a true pioneer.

“The legal stand that she took against the Canadian government has brought many closures for residential school survivors in Canada.”

Ms. O’Hara said Ms. Bernard had nothing to gain when she began her struggle for justice.

“She did so because she cared when no one else seemed to care. What she gave in terms of a voice to other survivors to speak up is immeasurable. Nora will live forever in our hearts. I wish her spirit a safe and fast journey to the spirit world.”

The Shubenacadie Indian Residential School Association’s website says it was in 1987 that Ms. Bernard began locating survivors who were forced to attend the institution.

She helped form the Truro-based association in 1995 with a goal to help survivors and victims of physical, mental and sexual abuse at the school through healing processes that would help give them back their lives and culture.

That same year she hired Halifax lawyer John McKiggan to take the survivors’ case when others wouldn’t.

Years later, on the day of her death, Mr. McKiggan told The Chronicle Herald how he couldn’t say no to a determined and tireless Ms. Bernard.

He had worked on a number of claims for sexual abuse survivors but knew nothing about the Indian residential school system and what people had endured.

After speaking with Ms. Bernard and her fledgling group, he did some research and “came to believe that what happened to these children was horribly, horribly wrong. Nora convinced me to help her pursue justice for these children.”

Mr. McKiggan is convinced that if Ms. Bernard hadn’t filed her first class action, others may not have followed suit and the compensation settlement may never have happened.

“It’s a tremendous accomplishment that Nora was instrumental in.”

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