Nova Scotia

N.S. arts award to support legacy of late Mi'kmaw activist Nora Bernard

Bernard's daughter, Natalie Gloade, was selected for the Portia White protege award, which comes with a $7,000 prize.

Bernard's daughter, Natalie Gloade, has been selected for the Portia White protege prize

Natalie Gloade, centre, was named as a protege for the 2021 Portia White award. She says the $7,000 in prize money will go toward maintaining the legacy and home of her late mother, Nora Bernard, left. (Natalie MacLeod-Gloade)

The daughter of a renowned Mi'kmaw activist who died in 2008 plans to honour her mother's legacy by preserving her former home for others on the Millbrook First Nation.

Natalie Gloade is this year's recipient of the Portia White protege award, an honour given to an emerging Nova Scotia artist or cultural organization.

Gloade will receive $7,000 for her work creating a special site of healing and art in the home of her late mother, Nora Bernard, a survivor of the Shubenacadie residential school in Nova Scotia and one of the driving forces behind a class-action lawsuit against the Canadian government seeking compensation for other survivors.

"I'm kind of still in a shock mode, even though I just found out about a week ago," Gloade told CBC Radio's Mainstreet on Thursday.

The protege award is given to a recipient chosen by the winner of the Portia White Prize, named after the African Nova Scotian classical vocalist who rose to international acclaim.

Gloade said she was honoured to be selected for the award this year by Catherine Martin, an award-winning Mi'kmaw film producer and director, writer, community activist, teacher and drummer. Martin's award comes with an $18,000 prize.

Speaking to Mainstreet, Martin said the protege award would make a real difference in preserving Bernard's home and taking some of the burden off Gloade, who has used the space as a craft workshop to share her mother's skills, including working with sweetgrass.

Catherine Martin, a Mi'kmaw artist and filmmaker, is this year's recipient of the Portia White Prize. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

Martin noted artists like Gloade were traditionally supported by their Mi'kmaw communities and left free to bead or create petroglyphs. 

"I believe that has to come back in society all around, where artists are given the room and the time to do their creative work so that we have something for the future," said Martin, who also knew Bernard well.

Gloade said Bernard's house on the Millbrook First Nation has long been a shelter to others in the Mi'kmaw community.

Though it's been expensive to maintain, Gloade said she has kept the home open for residential school survivors "still struggling with the loss of my late mother and dealing with their trauma."

Bernard fought for years to get compensation for residential school survivors. She was killed in her home on the Millbrook First Nation in December 2008. (Natalie MacLeod-Gloade)

Bernard was 72 when she was killed in her home by Gloade's son, James Douglas Gloade. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 years for manslaughter. He was recently released from prison to live at a halfway house. 

Court heard he had consumed prescription drugs and crack on the day he attacked and killed Bernard, and came to ask her for money. 

Natalie Gloade said she "carried that guilt" for a long time and remained in shock for several years until a breakthrough that she credits to her mother's lifelong philosophy of "forgiveness and accountability."

A piece of wooden art made by Natalie Gloade. (Natalie MacLeod-Gloade)

"If her walls could cry, they would cry a million tears of all the stories that were told … and even my mother's own tears and her own cry for help," Gloade said Thursday. 

"Everything about that home is her, and that's why, you know, when I go there I'm very comforted."

In 2017, Gloade told the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls that her son, who was sexually abused by a relative when he was 12, was a victim of the legacy of residential schools

With files from CBC Radio's Mainstreet