After 24 years, sister of missing Mi'kmaq woman says sharing stories helps the healing
'Breaking the silence' a step along a painful journey, says Aggie Gould as she prepares for MMIWG inquiry
After two decades, Aggie Gould is still sharing her sister's missing-person flyer. Most recently, she gave a copy to a victim of domestic abuse — a reminder, she said, so they would not return to their abuser.
Virginia Pictou Noyes was from Membertou First Nation in Cape Breton and moved to Maine as an adult. In April 1993, she was taken to a medical centre in Bangor after being severely beaten.
She walked out while doctors were attending to another patient and was never seen again.
Surrounded by her family, Gould will tell her sister's story on Wednesday as part of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which is visiting Nova Scotia this week.
Commissioners are set to hear three days of testimony from about 40 Indigenous witnesses from around the Maritimes, starting Monday.
The opening ceremonies, however, take place Sunday and include a sunrise ceremony, the lighting of sacred fire, a canoe arrival and water ceremony, a men's walk and a community feast.
The community hearing is being held in Membertou, where Gould is now a radio broadcaster. She said she's been sharing her sister's story for years at MMIWG ceremonies around Nova Scotia.
'Finally breaking that silence'
It's a way to remind Indigenous men and women to take care of each other, she said, but also to show people how sharing can help them heal.
"It's one of the hardest things to do," Gould said. "Finally breaking that silence."
She said it's common for people to approach her after listening to share their own stories of loss.
"To me, that's a big thing," Gould said. "If you've been hanging on to it for so long, and it hurts inside, and you're allowing that healing to start … there may be some closure for you."
Providing a safe, welcoming environment for the families testifying has also been top of mind for Cheryl Maloney, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association.
Her group has been working with the province, Mi'kmaq leaders and other Indigenous advocates to offer support to those involved and to serve as a community host through this first phase of the inquiry process.
"We're very active in doing what we feel is part of our traditional culture of welcoming them in — doing our ceremonies, our protocols," she said.
"We sort of approach it like we would a traditional death in the community; we have a wake, we're up 24/7 surrounding the family with food, moral support, storytelling, laughing, crying."
As for Gould, she hopes telling her sister's story and "keeping hope alive" will also help to heal the children of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Pictou Noyes was a mother to seven kids. Two of her children died in a house fire before her disappearance and the other five were adopted away from their band.
They've since made contact and keep in touch with Gould, who said she's thrilled to know them and hopes they'll someday meet their mother. One of them will be attending this week's inquiry.
Gould still gets emotional when talking about her sister, but said it became easier the more she shared her story. When she first opened up, Gould said she focused on the violent aspects of the disappearance, but then decided on taking a more peaceful approach.
"I realized I needed to humanize the story. I need to tell what kind of person she was. She was a mother, not a sex-trade worker, not an alcoholic, not a drug addict. She was somebody that was loved by the young and old. She was my sister."
Membertou is the fourth community hearing the national MMIWG inquiry has held to date. Previous stops have been in Whitehorse, Smithers, B.C., and Winnipeg.