Rel­a­tives tell in­quiry that Indige­nous lives mat­ter

Calls made for men­tal health fa­cil­i­ties, teach­ing of an­ces­tral lan­guages in school

Waterloo Region Record - - Canada - KEVIN BIS­SETT

MONC­TON, N.B. — The fam­ily of an Indige­nous woman from Prince Ed­ward Is­land who died a sus­pi­cious death says they want peo­ple to know her life mat­tered.

“My mom mat­ters. Our First Na­tion women mat­ter,” Bar­bara Bernard said as she spoke be­fore the Na­tional In­quiry on Miss­ing and Mur­dered Indige­nous Women and Girls Wed­nes­day in Monc­ton, N.B.

Bernard and her grand­daugh­ter were there to talk about the life and death of Mary Fran­cis Paul.

They say they know few de­tails about Paul’s 1977 death on the Char­lot­te­town wa­ter­front and want to know if po­lice in­ves­ti­gated.

Bar­bara Bernard said her mother, from Scotch­fort, P.E.I., had an al­co­hol prob­lem and was a heavy drinker when she went out with friends but al­ways re­turned home and cared for her fam­ily.

How­ever, Bernard said she no­ticed her mother was fid­gety one night be­fore go­ing out — and then never re­turned.

Bernard said she learned days later her mother had been found dead near the water, but was only told that she had fallen and had a bro­ken neck.

Bernard said she was 16 years old at the time, and po­lice never gave her any de­tails.

“No one re­ally told me what hap­pened to my mom. I never re­al­ized it could have been a mur­der or sus­pi­cious death,” Bernard said.

She only dis­cov­ered 12 years later that the death may have been sus­pi­cious, and the body had been in a metal bin, but says she never learned more from po­lice.

Now 57, Bernard said she has ques­tions that she wants an­swered.

“Maybe they did in­ves­ti­gate, maybe they didn’t. I would like to know that for sure. The main thing is to find out if it was a sus­pi­cious death, was she mur­dered?” Bernard said.

“It felt like they didn’t think my mom’s life was worth any­thing, and that hurt. I think that’s what made me de­cide to come here and tell my story for my mom, be­cause my mom mat­ters,” she said, cry­ing.

The in­quiry heard from about 35 peo­ple dur­ing two days in Monc­ton, in­clud­ing a youth panel Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

The youth talked of the need to teach Indige­nous lan­guages in schools, and make time to teach their cul­ture and hear the sto­ries of elders.

“I’d like to see us re­turn to our an­ces­tral teach­ings, to our lan­guage and cul­ture so that our com­mu­ni­ties know how to prop­erly cope with trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences and in­ter­gen­er­a­tional trauma. I think the only an­swer to that is to re­turn to our roots and cer­e­mony and sto­ries with elders,” said Al­lan Sab­bitis-Atwin of Oro­mocto.

Leona Si­mon from El­si­pog­tog First Na­tion said there’s a need for Indige­nous men­tal health fa­cil­i­ties: “That would be awe­some,” she said.

Madi­son Dono­van of Monc­ton said sex-trade work­ers need more help to get off the streets and in­te­grate back into so­ci­ety.

“My vi­sion is for Monc­ton to have a fa­cil­ity for at-risk youth, women and men that are work­ing the streets and try­ing to find ways to make money to have a place to go to and not have to re­sort to hav­ing to do stuff like that. To get cleaned up, to have a home and have nice cooked meals for them,” she said.

Com­mis­sioner Michele Audette said she was im­pressed with the in­put dur­ing the Monc­ton hear­ings.

“I’m im­pressed by the courage of the fam­i­lies and sur­vivors that came in pub­lic, but also in pri­vate and through the state­ment gath­er­ing process. I’m very, very hon­oured,” she said, adding that de­spite thou­sands of kilo­me­tres be­tween stops, the in­quiry is hear­ing sim­i­lar sto­ries across the coun­try.

The fed­eral govern­ment set up the in­quiry in De­cem­ber 2015 to ad­dress the high num­ber of miss­ing and mur­dered Indige­nous women and girls.

More than 700 peo­ple have shared their sto­ries with the in­quiry so far.

AN­DREW VAUGHAN THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Kin­dra Bernard, right, with by her mother, Deana Beaton, left, holds a photo of her great-grand­mother at the In­quiry into Miss­ing and Mur­dered Indige­nous Women and Girls in Monc­ton, N.B. on Wed­nes­day. Bernard's grand­mother Bar­bara Bernard, cen­tre, de­liv­ered tes­ti­mony about the life and death of her mother.

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