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Vehicle for Change: PEI man’s wrapped orange Hyundai spreads truth about residential schools

Lennox Island, Prince Edward Island — “21 schools checked, 6509 and counting out of 139 schools and not one priest or nun has been charged yet.” This is a fact that far too many Canadians would prefer to avert their eyes from. Stephen Bernard is making sure they can’t look anywhere else.

“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.

The son of a residential school survivor and resident of Lennox Island, home to the Lennox Island Mi’kmaq First Nation, Bernard has turned his Hyundai into a mobile demonstration in support of the “Every Child Matters” movement.

Wrapped in the signature orange of the movement and adorned with the prints of tiny hands and feet, Bernard’s car broadcasts the cold reality of the Canadian government’s role as a colonial occupier, and the scale of the trauma endured by the thousands of children forcefully enrolled in residential schools.

Bernard says that the public reception to his car’s new look has been nothing but positive.

“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.”

Christopher Rayner and the team at Dan’s Muffler Signs and Decals in Summerside voiced that they were happy to be a part of delivering this message.

“We were all pretty proud to be a part of it,” said Rayner. “It was great to be a part of it and help him get the message out there.”

Rayner said that since getting the job from Bernard, conversations surrounding residential schools and Indigenous sovereignty have become more noticeably more commonplace around the shop.

Bernard is hoping that these sorts of conversations will finally prompt concrete justice for those who continue to be affected by the residential school system.

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

The last federally-funded residential school in Canada, Gordon’s Indian Residential School in Punnichy, Sask., did not close until 1996.

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