Lennox Island man driving awareness about residential schools

·3 min read
Stephen Bernard didn't want the conversation to stop about residential schools and the possible unmarked graves across the county, so he decided to turn his car into a billboard to raise awareness. (Tony Davis/CBC - image credit)
Stephen Bernard didn't want the conversation to stop about residential schools and the possible unmarked graves across the county, so he decided to turn his car into a billboard to raise awareness. (Tony Davis/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Stephen Bernard's car is a rolling reminder of the recent discoveries of what is believed to be thousands of unmarked graves of Indigenous children on the land of former residential schools across the country.

"I just wanted to do it to let people know what happened, you know, things are getting pretty quiet now. Nobody is talking about it," said Bernard.

Bernard didn't want the conversation to stop about residential schools and the possible unmarked graves across the county, so he decided to vinyl wrap his car orange — the colour associated with the Every Child Matters movement — and put those three words on his Hyundai. Bernard said his vehicle is creating conversations and getting support everywhere he goes.

"I get a lot of people looking and giving me the thumbs up," he said.

"I got more of a reaction in Nova Scotia, they were following me all over the place. I went down to a ball tournament and when I got to the ball field I was just swarmed."

Tony Davis/CBC
Tony Davis/CBC

Bernard said that makes him feel he is doing his part in getting the word out.

It took Christopher Rayner about a day and a half to apply the vehicle wrap at Dan's Muffler Signs and Decals in Summerside.

"We took a lot of pride and care," Rayner said. "We were all pretty proud to be a part of it."

Tony Davis/CBC
Tony Davis/CBC

Rayner said he feels like the car turned out "fantastic," but with the context of the vehicle highlighting a tragedy he wasn't sure what words really described the work.

"It was great to be part of this," he said. "It was great to be a part of it and help him get the message out there."

Rayner said he thought a lot about residential schools and it created productive discussions within the shop on the topic.

The car also features small hand and footprints representing Indigenous children and a call to action on one side which reads, "21 schools checked, 6509 and counting out of 139 schools and not one priest or nun has been charged yet."

Tony Davis/CBC
Tony Davis/CBC

Bernard said that is something he wants others to think about.

"I think there should be someone charged, there should be something done," he said. "I think it should be talked about quite a bit."

Bernard's father was a residential school survivor. Bernard said he wishes his father was around to see and hear the recent discussions around residential schools — but he said his father didn't talk too much about his own experience.

The plan is to leave the car wrapped with the message until his car "rots," Bernard said.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by these reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

Do you know of a child who never came home from residential school? Or someone who worked at one? We would like to hear from you. Email our Indigenous-led team investigating the impacts of residential schools at wherearethey@cbc.ca or call toll-free: 1-833-824-0800.

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