Agnes Gould is looking forward to sharing her sister’s story to commissioners with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, or MMIWG, next week in Membertou, N.S.
“I want to humanize her story. My story is about a mother of five children. She’s of the Mi’kmaw nation,” Gould said in a phone interview on Thursday.
Gould’s sister, Virginia Sue Pictou-Noyes, disappeared from the Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Maine on April 24, 1993. She was taken there by state police after she was severely beaten outside of a bar. The 26-year-old woman was last seen walking out of the hospital before she received treatment.
The National Inquiry into MMIWG will be holding a community hearing in Gould’s home community of Membertou First Nation in Sydney, N.S. Oct. 30 to Nov. 1. The three-day hearing will be held at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre.
The hearing was initially scheduled to take place in Halifax but the venue was changed after inquiry staff consulted with families in August.
Gould said she is glad the venue for the hearing was changed so her and other families will have easy access to support. Her family members are travelling from British Columbia, Maine and Boston, Mass. to take part in the hearings.
“I’m worried about the impact it’s going to have on my family because we’re going to be re-traumatized,” Gould explained.
“I know that if I need an elder to speak with or a health professional to speak with, I know I’m going to have that support,” she added.
40 witnesses to share their stories
According to the inquiry’s website, two commissioners, Qajaq Robinson and Michèle Audette, will attend the hearing in Membertou. Approximately 40 witnesses are scheduled to share their stories either public and private hearings, sharing circles and artistic expression panels.
A group called the Mi’kmaw Women Leaders Network, or MWLN, announced earlier this week it will host its own day-long opening ceremony event to welcome participants to the inquiry hearing on Sunday.
The MWLN is made up of representatives from the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, the Mi’kmaw Legal Support Network, the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre, Nova Scotia government partners from the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women, Justice and Aboriginal Affairs.
“In Nova Scotia, we’ve been planning for months for this day,” Cheryl Maloney, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, said.
“The Mi’kmaq and the Province of Nova Scotia should be actually hosting them and leading the ceremonies and what that host day and protocol should be,” Maloney explained.
Those events the MWLN is organizing include a sunrise ceremony, a water ceremony near Kings Road Shore, a grand entry and community feast at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre.
Maloney said the MWLN will also lend support to families throughout the hearing in Membertou. Services such as massage therapy and art therapy will be offered. Activities for children will also be made available.
“They may want to drop in, have tea. They may want to share stories. They may want to laugh and cry with people,” Maloney said.
“We’re hoping that it does resemble part of our cultural ways of healing and coming together,” she said.
“In death and hard times, the Mi’kmaq are very social and we do come together and support,” Maloney added.
Let families feel heard and validated
Amelia Reimer, who works as the cultural support coordinator at the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre in St. John’s, N.L., has been asked to be on site to offer support to family members during the hearing.
“I think having the hearing in Membertou will give a lot more flexibility to the family members and to the organizers as well, to have it be a more appropriate setting for families and the needs of families,” Reimer said in a phone interview.
Reimer said so far, only one family from Newfoundland and Labrador has contacted her and asked for her to be a support person for them at the hearings.
Reimer hopes the inquiry process will let the families feel heard and validated.
“Even if we can learn from what has happened to better handle future cases, even prevent future cases, I think that would be really important,” Reimer said.
“The families have so much information over how each of their family member’s cases were handled, where things fell apart,” she said.
The MMIWG hearing get underway on Monday at 9 a.m.