The Globe and Mail - 19.09.2019

(Axel Boer) #1



he familiar voice fills the living room over-
looking Bras d’Or Lake as if from another
dimension. It’s a low chant sung in Mi’k-
maq, crisp with consonants, rising and fall-
ing to the tempo ofItsy Bitsy Spider, then tapering
to a near whisper.
The recording plays while 16-month-old twins
Paisley and Mya toddle into the arms of a circle of
aunts and cousins, digging into their purses and
flashing toothy grins. They are everyone’s babies
“It’s the way we were raised,” grandmother Mo-
na Bernard says. “In my culture, there’s no such
thing as an orphan. There’s no such word in our
language, only the Mi’kmaq wordsitnaqn. It means
that the child is growing up without the mom but
with love.”
The twins are still unaware of the tragedy that
will burden the rest of their lives: Their mother,
22-year-old Cassidy Bernard, was killed, and they
are victims of a crisis centuries in the making.
Some day, they will learn what happened – and the
root causes behind their mother’s death, too.
Released in June, the final report of the National
Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous
Women and Girls revealed how colonialist struc-
tures have led to the persistent and deliberate vio-
lation of human and Indigenous rights. The report
can be seen as the backdrop to the tragedy that

befell Cassidy and her family in the back bedroom
of this beige bungalow last fall.
The youngest of four sisters and two brothers,
Cassidy grew up on a nearby First Nations reserve.
It’s home to many residential-school survivors and
the site of federal government efforts to relocate
the Mi’kmaq people of Cape Breton Island in the
1940s. Growing up was hard, Cassidy’s sister Tyra
Denny explains. The community was rife with
physical and sexual abuse, alcoholism and vio-
lence, so the sisters were protective of the smallest
and prettiest among them. “We didn’t want no one
bothering her, touching her,” Tyra says.
Cassidy’s life was full of potential. Smart and
sassy, with wavy hair and gold-flecked brown eyes,
she excelled at speaking and writing Mi’kmaq,
ranking top of her class in high school and winning
second place in a national science fair for a trans-
lation app. Accepted to three universities, she was
excited to attend St. Francis Xavier University, but
midway through her first year, a breakup with her
childhood sweetheart sent her into a depression
and she moved back home.
Soon after, she fell into a pattern of drug abuse
and wound up in a relationship with a man her
family was wary of.
But when Cassidy heard two heartbeats at the
local clinic, she cried with joy, her sister Reneé
Denny recalls. The twins were born healthy on
April 28, 2018, by emergency C-section, and she
raised them with the help of Mona in the house on
the hill. The baby’s father, who lives in another

community, sometimes stayed, too – until he and
Cassidy had a falling out.
In mid-October last year, Mona left home for a
few days to visit family. Upon her return, she came
up the steps the morning of Oct. 24 and immedi-
ately knew something was off. Cassidy hadn’t an-
swered calls or responded to texts. The door was
still locked in the middle of the morning, and the
house was silent.
At the end of the hall, she discovered her daugh-
ter in bed. She was tucked in, seemingly propped
up, with makeup on. Her skin was cold. The six-
month-old twins lay motionless in their cribs, and
Mona thought they, too, were gone – until she saw
Paisley’s brown eyes track toward her. The babies
were soiled and dehydrated. Too weak to cry.
It took the RCMP seven months to finally rule
what everyone on the reserve already knew: Cassi-
dy had been killed.
Forty-four Indigenous women were murdered
last year, the second consecutive annual increase,
according to Statistics Canada data released in July.
The numbers also reveal a troubling inequity:
While Indigenous people make up 5 per cent of the
country’s population, they account for 22 per cent
of homicide victims. The report attributes such
staggering rates of violence to the effects of colo-
nization: trauma, social and economic marginal-
ization and a loss of language and culture.
It said the absence of all these murdered women
creates a ripple effect that throws entire communi-
ties out of balance.








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