Residential school 'trickle down' factor in murder of Mi'kmaq activist, MMIWG inquiry hears

Natalie Gloade testified Tuesday on the second day of hearings held by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which is on the Membertou First Nation in Cape Breton this week.

Inquiry 'is our last resort' for many families, says Mi'kmaq women's advocate

Natalie Gloade, left, testifies during the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls on Tuesday. (CBC)

Natalie Gloade recalled the way the snow fell after receiving a phone call in the early morning hours of Dec. 27, 2007, that her mother — renowned Mi'kmaq activist Nora Bernard — was dead. She also remembered the police lights.

"I remember getting into my truck, heading down and there were flashing lights, red, clear blue. They seemed like they were everywhere and it was so bitter cold," Gloade said. "The snow was gently coming down … Everything seemed in slow motion."

Gloade testified Tuesday on the second day of hearings held by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which is on the Membertou First Nation in Cape Breton this week. 

An RCMP officer from Membertou intercepted Gloade before she got to the door of her mother's Millbrook First Nation, N.S., home. Bernard was found dead on the kitchen floor with her throat slit, said Gloade. The RCMP initially detained Gloade's younger brother who found Bernard as a potential suspect.

"The police cruiser pulled up and my baby brother was in the back, crying and shaking," Gloade said. "They put me in the back with him. He could hardly get the words out, just that my mom was gone. Mom was dead."

Moments later, the horrible truth arrived with a knock on the window from a woman in the community who told her that the killer was Gloade's son, James.

"I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what to think," she said. 

James Gloade pleaded guilty to manslaughter in September 2008. He was sentenced to 15 years. 

Natalie Gloade said her son, who was sexually abused by a relative when he was 12, was a victim of the legacy of Indian residential schools. He was also shot in the head by another young man in the community a few years before Bernard's murder. 

Cheryl Maloney, left, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association, sits next to Deveron Paul, son of Victoria Paul, and Candice Sillyboy, on Tuesday, during the hearings on the Membertou First Nation. (CBC)

"The trickle down effect of the residential school system still prevails today," said Gloade, who also mentioned she began speaking again with her son again about four years ago.

Gloade said the controversial Halifax statue of former Nova Scotia governor Edward Cornwallis, who offered a bounty for Mi'kmaq scalps, should be replaced by a statue of her mother and other Mi'kmaq women leaders.

Bernard was one of the driving forces behind the push for a class-action lawsuit against Canada over Indian residential schools that began in the late 1990s. She attended Shubenacadie Indian residential school in Shubenacadie, N.S.

Her home was also a shelter to others in the community. Vanessa Brooks, who will testify Wednesday about her sister Tanya Brooks' unsolved 2009 murder, told CBC News she used to go to Bernard's house when things got rough at home. 

The inquiry 'is our last resort'

The inquiry also heard Tuesday from Cheryl Maloney, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association, who testified on behalf of the family of Victoria Paul, a 44-year-old Indian Brook First Nation woman who died in hospital in 2009 after suffering a massive stroke while in the custody of Truro, N.S., police. 

National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls commissioners Qajaq Robinson, left, and Michèle Audette, speak during hearings in Membertou First Nation, N.S., on Tuesday. (CBC News)

The Halifax police launched an initial investigation into her death, but concluded in a report 18 months later that Truro police was not at fault. The provincial government then launched a second investigation, which determined Truro police failed to adequately care and monitor Paul. No one was ever disciplined over Paul's death. 

"The inquiry here it is our last resort in Canada," Maloney said.

Maloney said a Commissionaires security guard working the cells in the early morning hours of Aug. 28, 2009, when an intoxicated Paul was taken into custody, noticed there was something wrong with Paul about four hours into her detention. The guard informed an officer, Sgt. Lee Henderson, about Paul's state.

"[The] Commissionaires … was increasingly getting concerned," said Maloney. "He takes it to Sgt. Henderson and Henderson says, 'If you get a grunt, that's enough.'"

Paul was in custody for 10 hours before she was taken to hospital where she later died.

On Tuesday, Paul's son Deveron said he showed up to testify because it's what his mother would have wanted. 

"My son is going to grow up with no grandmother now," he said. "All I wanted was just answers about what happened to my mother."

Inquiry can't reopen cases

Commissioner ​Michèle Audette said the inquiry cannot reopen investigations — and witnesses are warned not to say anything that might compromise an open case — but it can request for more information from authorities.

"The family deserves answers like any families across Canada," said Audette, responding to a question about Victoria Paul's case.

The Paul family currently has an active lawsuit against the Truro police, the town and Sgt. Henderson.

The inquiry continues hearings on Wednesday and is also expected to release an interim report providing an analysis of previous research done into the disproportionate number of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. 


Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's investigative unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him