The Chief Family's Story of Resilience
My name is Corinne Chief - my brother was Felix Bernard Chief, who our family affectionally called Bernard.
Bernard was a brother, uncle, cousin, friend, and nephew, and he is dearly missed by everyone who knew him. Bernard was adored by his nieces and nephews – he loved to spend time with them, going out to movies, sharing meals, attending Bombers games, going for walks, and just hanging out with them.
His life unfolded against a backdrop of challenges, having been raised by a mother who was a residential school survivor and struggled with substance abuse. When Bernard was 8, he was electrocuted and lost his left arm and two fingers on his right hand. During his childhood in dealing with these injuries, Bernard traveled a lot for medical reasons and underwent multiple surgeries. Despite these hurdles, upon high school graduation, Bernard was offered a basketball scholarship at Brandon University but rather chose to move to Winnipeg with his family. He overcame his physical disabilities to excel at sports and to do everything that people with two full arms could do.
Yet Bernard still had struggles and grappled with alcohol and drugs. Despite numerous attempts to seek help and undergo treatment, his struggles persisted, exacerbated by the recent loss of our mother in 2021, a pain he found immensely challenging to bear.
Bernard loved kids, being especially great with my son. He wanted to ensure there was a safe place for children to be taken care of in his community and would talk about opening a daycare and being a business owner. This is something that Bernard cannot do now because his life was cut short.
On November 7, 2021, my brother's life was taken when he was attacked by a group of individuals while riding his bike. He was 28 years old.
Bernard’s sister Chastity was fighting cancer at the time. She passed away three months after Bernard, as the cancer spread through her body after Bernard was murdered. Following the deaths of our mother, Bernard, and Chastity in such a short time, Bernard’s siblings have not been able to cope well with these losses and traumas.
This year will be our third Christmas without Bernard. He was the one who kept us together, always joking around. Now it’s just too hard to get together. My 7-year-old son tells me he misses Uncle Bernard and asks questions about the spirit world, and I tell him what I can.
Sometimes I question how I am still standing. With all the hurt and anger, I have to work hard to be stable. I draw strength and courage from taking part in cultural events and ceremonies, surrounding myself with positive people who care for me, like the Candace House staff, and from my relationship with my husband Jay. Jay has experienced his own losses as well, including the murders of his mother and brother when he was young. Jay has told me he wished there had been a place like Candace House for his family back then. Maybe then his family would have been able to go through things together and wouldn’t have drifted apart like they have.
I have largely been dealing with the justice process on my own, as some of my family are not able to engage with this due to their grief and how re-traumatizing it is to come into contact with colonial systems that have done so much harm. I’m going though because I love Bernard; I want to be there for him and make sure he has a voice. It has helped to give me a bit of closure.
There have been so many dates over the past two years set for different court proceedings and meetings. In the middle of everything, Jay and I were trying to plan our wedding. We got married in October of 2022, the day after a preliminary hearing. It hurt so much not having Bernard there with us.
Candace House has been with us since the very beginning - we always knew we had their support and comfort at any time. Being able to have my friends and family at Candace House with me as well has meant so much. They were surprised by all that was being offered - a beautiful place that felt like home, all the snacks and food we wanted, medicines required for smudging, access to elders, and kind staff who made us feel safe and cared for.
I can’t imagine what we would have done without Candace House. They have always been here to give us the chance to regroup and just be ourselves. I continue to feel welcomed, understood, and loved by everyone here. One day, I wish to see more Candace Houses across the province and country.