Nora Bernard (September 22, 1935 – December 27, 2007) was a Canadian Mi’kmaq activist who sought compensation for survivors of the Canadian Indian residential school system. She was directly responsible for what became the largest class-action lawsuit in Canadian history, representing an estimated 79,000 survivors; the Canadian government settled the lawsuit in 2005 for upwards of 5 billion dollars.
In 1945, when Bernard was 9 years old, her mother was told that if she did not sign the consent forms to send her children to a residential school, the child welfare system would take her children into "protective custody"; as a result, Bernard attended the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School for five years. In 1955, she married a non-native man, and consequently lost her legal status under the Indian Act; the relevant section of the Indian Act was repealed in 1985, but this did not automatically lead to reinstatement as a band member, and it was not until March 2007 that she was voted back into the Millbrook First Nation.
In 1995, Bernard began an organization to represent survivors of the Shubenacadie school; she subsequently convinced Halifax lawyer John McKiggen to represent the Shubenacadie survivors in a class-action suit. After the Shubenacadie suit became public knowledge, many other survivors' associations across Canada filed similar suits; these were eventually amalgamated into one national lawsuit. In McKiggan's words, "if it wasn't for Nora's efforts, and other survivors like her across Canada, this national settlement never would have happened. After we filed our lawsuit, a number of other students from other schools filed similar class actions."
In 2005, she testified before the House of Commons of Canada about the abuse children suffered in residential schools:
“Sexual and physical abuse was not the only abuse that the survivors experienced in these institutions. Abuses included such things as being incarcerated through no fault of their own; the introduction of child labour; the withholding of proper food, clothing, and proper education; the loss of language and culture; and no proper medical attention.”
Sadly in 2007, not long after thousands of survivors were to be sent compensation checks, she was killed by her grandson. Her bravery will not be forgotten.