P.E.I. Mi’kmaw woman seeks answers in mother’s death 40 years ago

Barbara Bernard, centre, and her granddaughter, Kindra Bernard, right, hold a picture of her great-grandmother Mary Francis Paul/Photo by Stephen Brake

Barbara Bernard wants to know what happened to her mother when she was found dead in Charlottetown, P.E.I. over 40 years ago.

“Nobody every really told me anything that happened to my mom and I think that’s one of the things that bothers me today,” Bernard, 57, said before the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Moncton, N.B. on Wed.

Barbara Bernard from Abegweit First Nation, P.E.I. talks about her mother, Mary Francis Paul at the MMIWG hearings in Moncton, N.B./Photo by Stephen Brake

Bernard, a Mi’kmaq from Abegweit First Nation in P.E.I., was 16 years old when her mother, Mary Francis Paul, didn’t return to their home in Scotchford, P.E.I. following a day trip to Charlottetown. She and a couple of her friends looked for her mother but they were unable to find her.

A few days later, Bernard’s mother was found dead along the city’s waterfront.

At the time, a teenaged Bernard was told her mother died from a broken neck. Twelve years later, however, a police officer reluctantly informed her that her mother’s body was found stuffed into a metal drum.

Bernard said she hasn’t really spoken about her mother to her own children and grandchildren.

“I had to move on without her. I think I just shut that door and I never looked back,” a tearful Bernard told Commissioner Michèle Audette.

“This is probably the first time they ever really heard me speak a lot about my mom and it seems so unfair and I apologize for that,” Bernard said.

“Sometimes when you love someone so much, it’s hard to really talk about things,” she said.

MMIWG Inquiry has held hearings in nine locations since May 2017

The federal government launched the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Dec. 2015.

The MMIWG inquiry held hearings in Moncton, N.B. Feb. 13-14/Photo by Stephen Brake

The inquiry’s mandate is to examine and report on the systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls. The commissioners are also responsible for making recommendations to remove systemic causes of violence and increase safety for Indigenous women and girls.

Since May 2017, the national inquiry has held community hearings in nine locations across Canada.

This week, the national inquiry heard from nearly 40 families and survivors of violence during two days of hearings in Moncton, N.B. It was the second time the inquiry held hearings in the Atlantic region.

Community hearings were held in the Mi’kmaw community of Membertou First Nation, N.S. Oct. 30 – Nov. 1, 2017. More than 40 families and survivors told their stories commissioners Audette and Qajaq Robinson.

Michéle Audette, who was the only commissioner to take part in the Moncton hearings, said family members like Bernard aren’t the only ones seeking answers from the justice system about their loved ones.

“We hear it. We see it. It’s a trend across Canada. It’s happening everywhere,” Audette told reporters during the final day of hearings.

MMIWG Commissioner Michèle Audette listens to testimony during Day 2 of hearings in Moncton, N.B. Feb. 14/Photo by Stephen Brake

“I invite any government, any institution to make sure that families deserve answers, for those that are actually in the investigation process,” she said.

Audette also announced the national inquiry will hold community hearings in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L. in early March. Commissioner Qajaq Robinson will attend those hearings, she added.

The next set of community hearings for the national inquiry will take place in Rankin Inlet, N.U. Feb. 20-22 and in Montreal, Que. Mar. 12-16.

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About Maureen Googoo 270 Articles
Maureen Googoo is an award-winning journalist from Indian Brook First Nation (Sipekne'katik) in Nova Scotia. She has worked in news more than 30 years for media outlets such as CBC Radio, the Chronicle-Herald and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. Maureen has an arts degree in political science from Saint Mary's University in Halifax, a journalism degree from Ryerson University in Toronto and a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.