International Women’s Day 2019 – Nora Bernard

In honour of International Women’s Day 2019, JFK members are highlighting the contributions of a number of Indigenous women.

Nora Bernard

Nora Bernard was a Canadian Mi’kmaq activist who sought compensation for survivors of the Canadian Indian residential school system. Nora filed the first Class Action law suit against the government of Canada seeking compensation for Residential School Survivors. After Nora filed her claim, other survivors from other schools in other provinces filed similar law suits. These claims eventually consolidated into the National Class Action Settlement, the largest class action settlement in Canadian history which will pay compensation to up to 70,000 former Residential School residents.

Nora was born September 22, 1935 in the Mi’kmaq First Nation Community of Millbrook. In 1945, when Bernard was 9 years old, her mother was told that if she did not sign the consent forms to send her children to a residential school, the child welfare system would take her children into “protective custody”; as a result, Bernard attended the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School for five years.

In 1995, Bernard began an organization to represent survivors of the Shubenacadie school. She subsequently convinced Halifax lawyer John McKiggan to represent the Shubenacadie survivors in a class-action suit. After the Shubenacadie suit became public knowledge, many other survivors’ associations across Canada filed similar suits; these were eventually amalgamated into one national lawsuit. In McKiggan’s words, “(…) if it wasn’t for Nora’s efforts, and other survivors like her across Canada, this national settlement never would have happened. (…) After we filed our lawsuit, a number of other students from other schools filed similar class actions.”

In 2005, she testified before the House of Commons of Canada about the abuse children suffered in residential schools. Nora passed away on December 27, 2007, however her legacy and courage to seek justice for the survivors of the Canadian Indian residential school system continues today.