Famed Native Rights Activist Murdered, Grandson Charged

January 1, 2008 · Print This Article · Email This Post

Nora Bernard, Aboriginal Rights ActivistNora Bernard, 72, a First Nation activist noted for bringing a 1996 class action lawsuit against the Canadian government which is worth up to $5 billion and which successfully sought compensation for native students who lost their culture and language while enrolled in the Canadian residential school system for aboriginals, was found murdered in her home in Truro, Nova Scotia on December 27. Yesterday, her grandson James Douglas Gloade, 24, was charged with her first-degree murder.


Nora Bernard Home in Truro, Nova Scotia, CanadaAccording to Truro Police Chief David MacNeil, Ms. Bernard, a member of the Millbrook First Nation, was found dead on the kitchen floor of her Willow St. home at about 3:00 a.m. by a son who lived with her. She had suffered “obvious blunt force trauma to her face and she had been stabbed in the upper part of her body,” MacNeil said.


James Douglas Gloade, Charged with First-Degree Murder in the Death of His Grandmother, Nora Bernard, Famed Native Rights Activist in CanadaThe Mi’kmaq elder is credited with winning the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history. The settlement was to compensate about 70,000 to 80,000 aboriginal children who suffered physical and sexual abuse over a 100-year period from the 1870s to the 1970s while forced to attend residential schools run by six Christian denominations. Victims, including Bernard, had begun receiving settlement checks, and Bernard received $14,000 just before Christmas. Police believe the murder was drug related; Gloade has a history of drug abuse, according to police, as well as a criminal history including assault and uttering death threats and numerous violations of court orders.


After the activist’s death, one of her daughters, Leanna MacLeod, told CTV Atlantic: “My mother was a fighter — for somebody to go up against the government and not to back down. . .It wasn’t to be disrespectful. It was to bring the truth about, and that’s what she did. She accomplished something that a lot of people only wish they could.”

Mi'kmaq World View, Acrylic on Canvas Painting by Teresa Marshall of the Millbrook First Nation, Nova ScotiaThe Halifax lawyer who represented Bernard in the class action lawsuit, John McKiggan, took the case when many others wouldn’t. Although he initially knew nothing about the aboriginal residential school system, he was moved to take Bernard’s case. McKiggan was quoted in the Chronicle Herald of Nova Scotia as saying that he “came to believe that what happened to these children was horribly, horribly wrong. Nora convinced me to help her pursue justice for these children.” He characterized Bernard as being single-handedly responsible for the settlement, adding: “Nora would not take no for an answer. And it was only after 12 years of fighting that Nora and the other survivors across Canada were finally proven right.”

When Bernard was nine years old, in 1945, her mother told her that if she didn’t sign consent forms to send Nora and her other children to a residential school, child welfare would take the children into “protective custody.” Bernard spent five years in an aboriginal residential school in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. After marrying a non-native in 1955 and under the terms of the Indian Act, she lost her native legal status. When that section of the Act was repealed in 1985, it didn’t lead to automatic reinstatement as a band member. In fact, it took until March 2007 before she was voted back into the Millbrook First Nation.

Mi'kmaq Girls in Sewing Class at the Shubenacadie Residential School, 1929

Settlements were about $27,000 for children forced to attend the residential schools; students who suffered sexual or physical abuse are eligible for up to $250,000 in damages, with an additional $250,000 compensation for lost income. Young children who attended the schools also typically lost the ability to speak their native language after about four years.

At his Monday morning arraignment, Gloade cried as sheriff’s deputies escorted him into a Truro provincial courtroom. His next court date is on January 7. His grandmother’s funeral will be held at the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Millbrook at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, 2 January.

Mi'kmaq Drummers Lead Nora Bernard's Funeral ProcessionUpdate: Ms. Bernard’s Wednesday funeral drew overflow crowds to the Millbrook church. In her eulogy, another daughter, Gail Richardson, said: “She had the heart of a soldier and the soul of an angel…She worked hard for justice for all and we must work to honor her by continuing this work.” Mi’kmaq drummers led the funeral procession to Sacred Heart. Many in the procession wore blue ribbons to symbolize the residential school survivors, while others wore purple ribbons from the “Sisters in Spirit” campaign. Organized by the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), the program remembers First Nation, Inuit, Mi’kmaq and Métis women who have been victimized by violence.

Read more First Nation news.

Photo credit: Cathy Von Kintzel / Chronicle Herald, CTV.ca and Truro Police

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