Although it is disheartening that the police investigation into the sudden death of Cassidy Bernard has yielded no results, there are some hopeful signs starting to appear.
On October 24, the first anniversary of Bernard’s death, approximately 150 people stood along a stretch of Trans-Canada Highway 105 near the We’koqma’q First Nation.
Standing for one-hour-and-12-minutes, one second each for the estimated 4,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women – and an extra 365 seconds for every day the family has waited for justice – the group demanded answers.
The subsequent RCMP investigation into the 22-year-old’s death is ongoing, police have called the death suspicious but no new information has been released.
Cassidy’s mother, Mona Bernard said it is “heartbreaking” to go a whole year without answers.
Darian Cremo said the past year has been very traumatic, not just for the family but the whole community, as there is fear.
Donald Morrison, of Eskasoni First Nation, supported the cause because one of his daughters went missing in 2005, an ordeal which still leaves him with a heavy heart.
Before the protest, The Reporter spoke with Annie Bernard-Daisley, a cousin of Cassidy’s who was recently elected president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association (NSNWA).
An aggregate of Indigenous women’s organizations from across the country, NWAC was founded on the collective goal to enhance, promote and foster the social, economic, cultural and political well-being of Indigenous women within their respective communities and Canada societies. Since 1974, NWAC has established strong and lasting governance structures, decision-making processes, financials policies and procedures, and networks to help achieve its overall mission and goals.
The NSNWA is the second oldest Indigenous organization in the province, behind the Nova Scotia Union of Indians.
As president, Bernard-Daisley, a three-term band councillor with We’koqma’q First Nation, will lobby all levels of government on issues affecting women and youth in provincial, federal, and international Aboriginal forums.
Also a mother of three girls, Bernard-Daisley said she is proud to be leading a group of dedicated volunteers that provides a level of advocacy unsurpassed in the region.
As an important voice for all Indigenous women across the province, Bernard-Daisley said addressing the recent 231 calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is a top priority of hers.
But she noted that her work also involves the Child Welfare Act, human trafficking, opioid usage, sexualized violence, violence against women, and many other important matters.
Coming, not long after 100 Women Who Care Rural Cape Breton voted to donate $16,000 to the Whycocomagh and Area Volunteer Fire Department and Auxiliary, it was nice to spread more good news about women in this region, especially after the horrible tragedy of Cassidy Bernard.
Coming on the heels of too many horror stories surrounding missing and murdered indigenous women, the news of October 24, 2018 was yet another punch to the gut.
To hear that the flame of a young life – a mother, daughter, granddaughter, niece, aunt, sister, friend, and neighbour – had been snuffed out, was jarring.
As the days turned into weeks, the fact there were no arrests, and seemingly little information, was even more disturbing. As weeks became months, the fact that the RCMP still had not identified Cassidy’s remains was mortifying.
But in the midst of this unimaginable grief, came good news. The woman who served as the family’s spokesperson, who rallied residents to display red dresses in solidarity with Cassidy and others whose lives were ended far too soon, who kept Cassidy’s story and her memory alive, has a platform and a position from which to lobby for change.
Bernard-Daisley has the unique opportunity to turn her family’s nightmare into something positive, which can help other people, and even more importantly, help avoid more tragedies in the future.