Nova Scotia

Mi'kmaw chief sees better future through MMIWG action plan

Spurred on by the pain from her own family tragedy, Annie Bernard-Daisley has spent the past few years fighting for justice for her cousin and all Indigenous women and girls.

'We've been standing up and fighting,' says We'koqma'q Chief Annie Bernard-Daisley

Annie Bernard-Daisley organized a rally in 2019 in memory of her cousin, Cassidy Bernard, on the one-year anniversary of her death. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

Spurred on by the pain from her own family tragedy, Annie Bernard-Daisley has spent the past few years fighting for justice for Indigenous women and girls.

They include her cousin Cassidy Bernard, who was killed more than two years ago on the We'koqma'q First Nation in Cape Breton, where Bernard-Daisley now serves as chief.

"Our people have faced atrocities since colonization," said Bernard-Daisley. "We've been standing up and fighting for our family members and friends that have lost their lives."

On Thursday, Ottawa promised "substantial and transformative change" as it released its long-awaited response to the landmark report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Indigenous communities across the country had been calling for an inquiry for years. Statistics show Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or go missing than other women in Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged Thursday the kind of historical racism, discrimination and violence that Indigenous people have faced and continue to experience — words that give Bernard-Daisley hope for change.

Her cousin, a mother of two, was 22 years old when she was found dead in her We'koqma'q home on Oct. 24, 2018. Her infant twin daughters were found inside the home, dehydrated but otherwise unharmed. The twins' father has been charged with second-degree murder in her death.

I hope to start seeing changes in my lifetime, and in my daughters' and all our daughters' future generations.- Annie Bernard-Daisley

Since the tragedy, Bernard-Daisley has devoted herself to honouring her cousin, organizing a rally to mark the one-year anniversary of her passing as well as pledging to do all she can to get all 231 calls to justice by the national inquiry acted on.

"It's quite encouraging to see that $2.2 billion has been set out for the calls, and this is a great starting point," said Bernard-Daisley, a past president of the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association.

A mother of three daughters, Bernard-Daisley has been unwavering in her support for the cause on a national level.

She helped get discussions about missing and murdered Indigenous women on the table at a First Nations summit in Halifax three years ago.

Cassidy Bernard was found dead in her home on the We'koqma'q First Nation on Oct. 24, 2018. (Facebook)

It's not just the commitment of big amounts of money for Indigenous language, culture, infrastructure, health and policing, but the promise Ottawa will work hand in hand with Indigenous communities that gives her optimism.

"I hope to start seeing changes in my lifetime, and in my daughters' and all our daughters' future generations," she said.

The national plan comes two years after the inquiry's final report. 

Denise Pictou Maloney, too, has been a tireless campaigner for the sorts of changes the plan commits to after the murder 46 years ago of her mother, Mi'kmaw activist Annie Mae Pictou Aquash.

The Sipekne'katik First Nation woman is co-chair of the National Family and Survivors Circle, which has been working with families, survivors and the LGBTQ community on helping develop the action plan released Thursday.

Denise Pictou Maloney lights a candle for her mother, Anne Mae Pictou-Aquash, in Halifax in October 2017. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

"We have 4,000 women that never made it home, 4,000 plus," said Pictou Maloney.

While some organizations have said the plan falls short, Pictou Maloney said she believes the fact families have been involved in its development will go a long way.

She said it's now up to all levels of government to work together. 

"What will be the benchmark for me and tell me if it's successful is the impact on the ground," she said. "Are women and girls feeling safe in their communities, wherever they choose to live?"

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gareth Hampshire is an award-winning journalist who began his career with CBC News in 1998. He has worked as a reporter in Edmonton and is now based in Halifax.

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