Nova Scotia native activist Nora Bernard spent decades fighting to get compensation for fellow survivors of Canada’s Indian residential schools. Over the years, the Mi’kmaq elder grew her case into a nationwide class-action lawsuit, culminating with a historic $5-billion settlement and a formal apology from Ottawa. But the money, it turned out, wasn’t enough.
On Dec. 26, 2007, just weeks after her $14,000 compensation cheque arrived, Bernard’s drug-addicted grandson slashed her throat with a kitchen knife when she refused to give him $20. James Douglas Gloade was sentenced last week to serve 15 years for manslaughter. Following the hearing, his sister Danielle told Maclean’s: “My grandmother gave her life for James to get help.”
Danielle doesn’t dispute the sentence given to her brother, calling it a “step in the right direction.” But she fears the cycle of addiction and violence will continue. After her brother suffered sexual abuse as a child, he turned to drugs and crime. By 25, Gloade had amassed 37 convictions, and on the night of the killing, had taken $500 worth of crack cocaine, OxyContin and Valium. But Bernard, who worked as a substance abuse counsellor in the Millbrook First Nation reserve in the 1970s, always extended her hand, Danielle says. “Nanny could always see the good in him when no one else could.”
In the aftermath of the tragedy, Bernard’s family continues to be torn apart. They are divided over who to blame for the killing, and what to do with Bernard’s house, which is just outside the Millbrook reserve. Some say the home should be preserved as her memorial, while others say it should be sold. Danielle says her grandmother would be dismayed by the quarrelling. “She would feel her teachings were going upon deaf ears.”