When someone disappears from your life, memories are all you have to fill the void.
Angeline Pete disappeared in May 2011. Her grandmother, Eileen Nelson, raised Angeline from the age of three on the Quatsino Sound First Nation reserve on Vancouver Island.
Although many have come to know of Angeline as a missing person, her grandmother remembers her as a girl full of strength and happiness – a girl free to explore.
“When we were out on Hope Island [once], she was about 12 years old with her kid brother and my husband. We didn’t have any electricity except at night, when we had a generator that she learned how to run,” says Ms Nelson.
“That was her most treasured time because there was nothing else to disrupt our lives – it was just the four of us in the house there.”
Ms Nelson remembers a happy kid who never wanted to leave her grandmother’s side, except to go fishing. She says that Angeline loved to go fishing in the placid waters at the tip of Vancouver Island. It was then, says her grandmother, that Angeline felt free, in control and at peace.
“She enjoyed fishing because of the motion of the boat, and my husband taught her how to run the boat herself. She’d be at the wheel steering the boat with just us on there. Just being on the boat and being together, and just enjoying herself and smiling.”
A few years ago, Angeline left Quatsino Sound to work in a carnival that toured throughout Vancouver Island, into Vancouver and as far as Alberta. While in Vancouver, Ms Nelson says that her granddaughter ran into some trouble and was put on probation. This forced Angeline to stay in the city, but she continued to call her grandmother regularly.
Ms Nelson last spoke on the phone to her granddaughter in mid May. After a few weeks of not hearing from her, Ms Nelson became worried.
“She’d phone me when she wanted a recipe, or just to talk. She’d call me all the time. Every time, she would call. It’s not like her not to call,” says Ms Nelson. Her mother, Molly Dixon, reported her missing in August 2011.
Angeline’s grandmother says that her granddaughter needed to come home to heal, continue exploring and be loved by her family and friends.
“Being in Vancouver was not a good place for her,” remembers Ms Nelson. “She wanted to come home. She wanted to come home badly, and she wanted the probation changed to here [Quatsino Sound], but the probation officer said no.”
Ms Nelson says the other girls on the reserve needed her as well, and Angeline needed all of them. In Vancouver, she says, there was never any support for her granddaughter.
“Vancouver isn’t the place for her,” says Ms Nelson. “She had no support system there. She needed someone to stand beside her. To help her. Someone to hold her when she was hurting.”
Ms Nelson suffers from severe arthritis and wasn’t able to visit Angeline in Vancouver. However, she has visited Vancouver once since she last heard from Angeline. She saw where her granddaughter had reportedly last stayed – one of the many shelters in Vancouver.
“It broke my heart to see that she had to share space with people from the streets. She never had that in her life. She always had her own space and freedom.”
Before moving to an East Vancouver shelter, Angeline lived in North Vancouver with a man who promised to marry her. After several altercations and a split lip Angeline took off, but because of her probation she couldn’t leave Vancouver. Now, her grandmother says, no one knows where she is.
“The hardest thing to think about is if she has a bed to sleep in and where she’s at and if she’s being treated properly. You hear so many stories … I stopped watching the news for a while because it was upsetting to see nothing about her.”
Along with others who have recently been reported missing, Angeline’s image is on several lampposts in Vancouver. Some of the posters have become tattered and worn by the rain, waiting for Angeline’s mother, Molly, to come and replace them.
In Quatsino Sound, Angeline’s grandmother is left with hope and memories of a grand daughter missing in person, but never in her thoughts and heart.
“I’ll always cherish her laughter.”