Nova Scotia

Mystery over Sipekne'katik's unbuilt residential school monument

The Sipekne'katik Band is seeking answers about what happened to a $500,000 fund to memorialize survivors of the Shubenacadie residential school.

Sipekne'katik Band wants full disclosure on how $500K was spent

The Shubenacadie Band (now called the Sipekne'katik Band) applied to Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission for $500,000 in 2011 for the Shubenacadie Residential School Commemoration Project. (CBC)

The Sipekne'katik Band is seeking answers about what became of a $500,000 fund to memorialize survivors of the Shubenacadie residential school.

An elder and residential school survivor says she feels betrayed by the organization that received funding to build a monument and hold a healing ceremony for residential school survivors from across the Maritimes.

Now, Dorene Bernard wants to know why that proposed monument was never built.

"It makes me feel — and I'm sure it makes other survivors feel — forgotten. Forgotten and disrespected," she said.

Dorene Bernard said the 2012 survivors' event was smaller than what was proposed. (CBC)

Funding approved by Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission

According to documents obtained by CBC News, in 2011, the Shubenacadie Band — now called the Sipekne'katik Band — in Nova Scotia applied to Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission for $500,015 for the Shubenacadie Residential School Commemoration Project.

After funding was approved by the commission, the former council voted to pass control of the project to a private company called The First Nations Centre of Balance and Resiliency.

Notable names in company

Directors of the company included former band chief Jerry F. Sack, former band administrator Violet Paul, plus several nationally-known non-band members including Phil Fontaine, the former head of the Assembly of First Nations.

Between April 2012 and July 2012, the federal department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development transferred more than $452,000 to the centre.

Violet Paul also acted as the centre's chief administrator.

'Unfeasible' that centre spent $450K on conference

CBC News has obtained a copy of a letter sent on May 11, 2016, to the centre's directors by band solicitor Ronald A. Pink.

"It is a belief of the Sipekne'katik Band Council that it is completely unfeasible [that] the Centre of Balance and Resiliency has spent all $450,000, or a significant portion thereof, on the conference of 2012," Pink wrote in the letter.

The letter demands the board members provide copies of all financial statements and bank balances of the First Nations Centre of Balance and Resiliency, claiming the board members have a "fiduciary duty" to ensure funds were spent in the best interest of band members.

No response, says chief

Chief ​Rufus Copage of the Sipekne'katik Band says none of the directors had responded to the letter by the deadline of May 26.

"The biggest thing to me is all accountability. Maybe they can account for every cent they spent," he said.

"I think what they were trying to do was a good thing. But if the money never got spent properly or never went to what it was supposed to, then that wasn't a good thing at all."

CBC News tried to contact director Phil Fontaine through his consulting company Iskonigan, and received no reply.

Plans for memorial bench

Violet Paul declined to do a broadcast interview with CBC News.

But through Facebook, Paul says she's preparing final financial reports for the centre, which shut down in 2012.

She says she still plans to build a memorial bench with the names of survivors on it, and place it near the Roman Catholic church in Indian Brook.

Paul says she intends to hold an unveiling and memorial ceremony at that time.

Government forced Mi'kmaq children to attend school

The federal government forced more than 1,000 Mi'kmaq children to attend the school, which was run by Roman Catholic nuns, between 1930 and 1967. Many students suffered physical and sexual abuse, and all students were forced to speak English and abandon traditional cultural practices.

The commemoration proposal included plans for a three-day event bringing together 1,500 people, including 700 residential school survivors for a program of healing ceremonies and cultural events.

Monument also proposed

The document also proposed the construction of a monument near the site of the former residential schools. A circle of seven stone chairs, each four metres tall, representing the "7 districts of the region, 7 sacred teachings and 7 generations teaching."

"The physical monument is meant to make sure nobody ever forgets about the legacy of the residential school," Bernard said.

Design attributed to Mi'kmaq artist

The proposal attributes the design to Mi'kmaq artist Teresa Marshall of Millbrook.

Marshall says she did preliminary design work for the monument, but was not aware her name was on the proposal document. She said she was never paid for that work.

"It really pisses me off," she said. "I am sad that we don't get to do this to help ourselves and the community and coming together."

Mi'kmaq artist Teresa Marshall says she was not paid for her preliminary design work on a monument proposed for the site of the former residential schools. (CBC)

Dorene Bernard also wants to know why the survivors' event that eventually took place in 2012 in Dartmouth was on a smaller scale than proposed.

That's a concern shared by the current band council.

Clearing up financial questions 

Bernard also wants to clear up financial questions about the centre to open the way to raise money for a monument on the scale of the original proposal.

"Fundraising for a monument that already got a half million dollars funded for it would make it sound like we don't need it," she said. "I think it's very important."


Jack Julian


Jack Julian joined CBC Nova Scotia as an arts reporter in 1997. His news career began on the morning of Sept. 3, 1998 following the crash of Swissair 111. He is now a data journalist in Halifax, and you can reach him at (902) 456-9180, by email at or follow him on Twitter @jackjulian

With files from Olesya Shyvikova