Patricia Bernard is a Wolastoqey woman, grandmother, lawyer and Chief of the Madawaska
Maliseet First Nation in northern New Brunswick. Her commitment to resolving a 250-year-old specific land claim dispute, for the benefit of her community, has been ongoing for the past 25 years, wherein she researched, litigated, negotiated and settled the dispute in 2021. But this major file is only one of many of her accomplishments throughout her career.
Prior to becoming Chief in 2013, Patricia was a councillor for the community since 2007. Patricia worked for the federal government in the Specific Claims Branch in Ottawa and in Governance and Registration in Amherst with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada from 2000 to 2006. Patricia has a degree in education and law and was called to the New Brunswick Bar in 2000. In fact, she was the first Wolastoqey woman to graduate with a law degree. All her time in university was focused on Aboriginal history and law, and it has definitely paid off.
Aside from her focus on the land claim, Patricia, while a councillor and legal and governance advisor to her community, focused much of her time on developing and implementing policies, by-laws and protocols that work towards transparency, accountability, fairness and overall good governance. As Chief, she was instrumental in bringing unity to the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick. Patricia, in her first year as Chief, held the first meeting in her community towards uniting the Wolastoqey communities and was the leading promoter until a unified organization was structured.
Patricia continues to be instrumental in advocating for the advancement of the Wolastoqey and Indigenous people of New Brunswick generally, in having Aboriginal and Treaty rights recognized and implemented within this province, and in advancing the very important work of reconciliation. Patricia has been instrumental in pursuing recognition of Aboriginal Title to her traditional territory. She often acts as a spokesperson for the Wolastoqey Chiefs when discussing the Claim. She serves as a role model for all young New Brunswickers, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike.
Her home community of Madawaska is a model for any Canadian community. Madawaska First Nation is major economic driver in the region and contributes revenues for not only her community but also for the local municipal government (City of Edmundston) and for the Provincial government as well. Grey Rock Power Centre is an economic success with a strong foundation that has progressed under her leadership. The Grey Rock Power Center employs over 300 people from the surrounding region. Her exemplary leadership was recently recognized when her community was awarded the 2018 Indigenous Economic Developer of the Year Award by Cando (a national Indigenous organization involved in community economic development.) In 2019, Chief Bernard was appointed to the Order of New Brunswick, one of the highest honours for any civilian in the province.
Under Chief Bernard’s leadership, Madawaska recently voted, in a referendum community vote, to leave the Indian Act in regard to the management of lands. Her community also left the Indian Act with respect to Elections and Membership. Self-determination and self-government are continuous goals for Chief Bernard, so she is not stopping anytime soon.