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Relatives of P.E.I. woman tell inquiry that Indigenous lives matter


MONCTON, N.B. — The family of an Aboriginal woman from Prince Edward Island who died a suspicious death says they want people to know her life mattered.

"My mom matters. Our First Nation women matter," Barbara Bernard said as she spoke before the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Wednesday in Moncton, N.B.

Bernard and her grand-daughter were there to talk about the life and death of Mary Francis Paul.

They say they know few details about Paul's 1977 death on the Charlottetown waterfront and want to know if police investigated.

Barbara Bernard said her mother, from Scotchfort, P.E.I., had an alcohol problem and was a heavy drinker when she went out with friends but always returned home and cared for her family.

However, Bernard said she noticed her mother was fidgety one night before going out — and then never returned.

Bernard said she learned days later her mother had been found dead near the water, but was only told that she had fallen and had a broken neck.

Bernard said she was 16 years old at the time, and police never gave her any details.

"No one really told me what happened to my mom. I never realized it could have been a murder or suspicious death," Bernard said.

She only discovered 12 years later that the death may have been suspicious, and the body had been in a metal bin, but says she never learned more from police.

Now 57, Bernard said she has questions that she wants answered.

"Maybe they did investigate, maybe they didn't. I would like to know that for sure. The main thing is to find out if it was a suspicious death, was she murdered?" Bernard said.

"It felt like they didn't think my mom's life was worth anything, and that hurt. I think that's what made me decide to come here and tell my story for my mom, because my mom matters," she said, crying.

The inquiry heard from about 35 people during two days in Moncton, including a youth panel Wednesday afternoon.

The youth talked of the need to teach Aboriginal languages in schools, and make time to teach their culture and hear the stories of elders.

"I'd like to see us return to our ancestral teachings, to our language and culture so that our communities know how to properly cope with traumatic experiences and intergenerational trauma. I think the only answer to that is to return to our roots and ceremony and stories with elders," said Allan Sabbitis-Atwin of Oromocto. 

Leona Simon from Elsipogtog First Nation said there's a need for Aboriginal mental health facilities: "That would be awesome," she said.

Madison Donovan of Moncton said sex-trade workers need more help to get off the streets and integrate back into society.

"My vision is for Moncton to have a facility for at-risk youth, women and men that are working the streets and trying to find ways to make money to have a place to go to and not have to resort to having to do stuff like that. To get cleaned up, to have a home and have nice cooked meals for them," she said.

Commissioner Michele Audette said she was impressed with the input during the Moncton hearings.

"I'm impressed by the courage of the families and survivors that came in public, but also in private and through the statement gathering process. I'm very, very honoured," she said, adding that despite thousands of kilometres between stops, the inquiry is hearing similar stories across the country.

The federal government set up the inquiry in December 2015 to address the high number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

More than 700 people have shared their stories with the inquiry so far.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled Scotchfort, P.E.I.

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