Nova Scotia

Missing Mi'kmaq woman Virginia Sue Pictou remembered with beadwork

The sister and brother of Virginia Sue Pictou, who was last seen on April 24, 1993, are expressing their pain through the craft of hand-beading, taught to them by their mother.

Siblings create crafts and art and keep faith that missing woman will be found

Agnes Gould shows two medicine bags made in memory of her sister. (CBC)

The sister and brother of a missing Aboriginal woman are expressing their pain through the craft of hand-beading, taught to them by their mother.

Virginia Sue Pictou, also known as Red Bear, went missing in Maine on April 24, 1993. She was the mother of seven children.

Her sister, Agnes Gould of Membertou First Nation, better known as Aggie Baby to listeners of the community radio station, has created medicine bags in memory of her missing sister using beads from one of her sister's pieces.  

"My sister made a piece of jewelry that she gave to me a long time ago," said Gould. "This would be a way to connect her children with her work, but also at the same time, it's part of all the same piece."

Two of Pictou's children died in a fire before her disappearance. The remaining five were adopted out of the band.

"No contact with family was allowed," said Gould. "We weren't allowed to find out who they were adopted by or anything like that." 

Each one of the children eventually reached out to Gould, and she started telling them stories about their mother. She also started thinking about what she could do to help connect them with their mother.

Gould said when she made each medicine bag, she recalled memories of her sister.

Medicine bags made by Agnes Gould (CBC)

While making the last three bags for the youngest girls, who were under five when their mother disappeared, Gould said she thought of Pictou around that same age.

"One bag, I remember, I was thinking I needed to share the story about how she had a beagle," said Gould. "It wouldn't listen to anybody else. It used to drive us crazy and all she had to do was snap her fingers and it would sit down and look at her."  

She has embroidered her sister's initials on every bag, and on the inside, in permanent marker, she's written the name of one of the children.

The four medicines

"They are not filled yet," said Gould. "The day that they will be filled is the day we find my sister."

She says each bag will have a loonie in it because the call of a loon gives closure.

"I'll also put in part of the four medicines that is part of the earth," explained Gould. The four medicines are sweet grass, cedar, sage and tobacco. 

Gould's brother, Robert Pictou, also practises the craft of beading. He's a TV producer and host in Terrace, B.C., where he plans to make beaded portraits of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

He has already made one of his missing younger sister.

Beaded portrait of Virginia Sue Pictou. (Submitted by Robert Pictou)

"I put that idea together to put this graph over a portrait of her and use that as a template to make her portrait," said Robert Pictou.

He spent about 120 hours working on his sister's portrait, using the likeness on her missing poster.

Robert Pictou decided he wanted to expand the project to showcase one missing or murdered Indigenous woman from each province.

"When we talk about the murdered, missing Indigenous women and girls, usually there is an adjective that proceeds it … known sex-trade worker, known substance abuser, known run-ins with the law," he said. "I want to bring that humanity back."

Working with the method used for the portrait in beads, he wants to include childhood objects to show the girl behind the picture. For his sister, it would be her tea set.

"She would always invite you to her tea and bannock party," Pictou remembered. "That's the Virginia that I remember. So what I want to do is I want to let the world know about that little girl." 

Still looking

Right now, he is working on creating a portrait of Lanna Derrick, who went missing while visiting her mother in Terrace more than 20 years ago.

"I want to sit down with the family and I wanted to hear them talk about Lanna, talk about that little girl," he said, "so that way when I do her portrait. they can include something that little girl would have."

Robert Pictou plans to debut his portraits in an exhibit next January. 

Agnes Gould says the family still searches for her sister every year, heading to Maine to look for her. She says her family will not move on until she is found.

"I talk about what it's like to have somebody that's missing, because for us and our family, we are frozen in time," said Gould. "We're stuck on that April 24, 1993."

Virginia Sue Pictou was last seen at the Eastern Maine Medical Center.