On this op-ed, Nahanni Fontaine, longtime advocate for Lacking and Murdered Indigenous Girls and Ladies (MMIWG) and New Democratic Celebration Member of Legislative Meeting for St. Johns, explains how the loss of life of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine mobilized a motion, regardless of no justice from the courts.
Within the fall of 2003, I gathered with roughly 20 individuals by the Alexander Docks on the shore of Winnipeg’s Crimson River — the identical river and gathering area as soon as so vital to my Peoples as a way of journey, commerce, and kinship. On that brisk, chilly day, we huddled not in celebration however in mourning, shock, and disbelief.
In March of that 12 months, 16-year-old Felicia Solomon Osborne vanished from college. In July, her arm and thigh washed ashore on the Red River, simply toes from the place we gathered with tobacco, prayer, and track.
On the vigil, as I watched Felicia’s household — sturdy, brave, and clearly in ache, tears falling from their faces — I saved pondering, “How is this even possible? Who savagely and methodically could chop up a child’s body and then dispose of it into the depths of a watery grave? What kind of monster could callously steal a mother’s love so wantonly?”
Native media would construct Felicia as a sex worker. This wholly inaccurate description sought to situate blame squarely on the kid, whose remaining physique elements have been by no means discovered, seemingly decayed elsewhere within the in depth, heavy Crimson River. It’s a part of the “she lived a high-risk lifestyle” narrative — one which’s commonly used as a way of abrogating any societal, shared culpability in her loss of life.
Nonetheless right now, the one that killed, certainly one of many monsters, walks the streets freely: free from consequence, free from recognition, and free from fear.
Quick-forward 11 years, and the Crimson River as soon as once more serves as a death-laden repository of one other youngster, solely toes from the place Felicia’s physique elements have been discovered. On August 17, 2014, the physique of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine — the physique of a kid — was discovered wrapped in a duvet cover by a father and son strolling alongside the shore; her physique was bloated and weighed down with more than 20 pounds of rocks. She was discovered alongside the muddy shoreline.
My first thought upon being notified physique had been found alongside the river was, “Please Creator: Don’t let or not it’s one other certainly one of our women or girls,” however my prayers and pleas would stay unanswered, but once more.
In Might 2014, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canada’s nationwide police drive, launched a nationwide dataset on MMIWG after accessing the data of greater than 300 police forces throughout Canada. The RCMP’s “Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview” discovered that from November 1980 to November 2012, 1,181 Indigenous girls and women had gone lacking or have been murdered. Thus far, that is probably the most complete quantity; nevertheless, it’s not correct because the variety of Indigenous girls and women who go lacking or murdered rises every year.
Winnipeg Police Service’s Detective Sergeant John O’Donavan emotionally stated in a press convention, “She’s a child. This is a child that’s been murdered. I think that society, we’d be horrified if we found a litter of kittens or pups in the river in this condition. This is a child, so I mean, society should be horrified.”
There was an outpouring of help, rage, damage, and ache, not solely from Tina’s household and the Indigenous neighborhood — who usually often function the one response to those circumstances — however from the broader collective public, who arrived in the hundreds in a second of vigil and prayer on August 19, 2014, on the Oodena Celebration Circle, situated solely toes from the place the Province of Manitoba had solely days earlier than unveiled a monument in honor of MMIWG. It was definitely one thing extraordinary to witness.
Individuals typically ask me, “What was so different about the Tina Fontaine case?”
It’s not that Tina is any kind of essential than every other MMIWG throughout Canada. To the 1000’s of MMIWG households throughout the nation, their family members have been adored, missed, and mourned in the exact same manner and spirit that Tina was. However to know the response to Tina’s homicide, one should situate it throughout the better context of a long time of blood, sweat, and tears rendered by MMIWG households and Indigenous girls from coast to coast to coast.
Most Canadians have begun to realize a way of the problem of MMIWG lately, however that’s solely the latter a part of a better story of perseverance, braveness, tenacity, forgiveness, dedication, and unconditional love that households have proven for his or her lacking and murdered family members, and by warrior Indigenous girls who stood with households as voices and advocates, who’ve marched by the thousands, who wept, who attended feasts, memorials, funerals, ceremonies, numerous shows, and keynotes.
And whereas MMIWG households and Indigenous girls participated with power, company, and love, the seeds of connection and understanding have been quickly sown within the public consciousness of all Canadians.
And so, when these first photographs of Tina first hit the information, in 2014, it’s as if all these tens of millions of seeds sown over the previous 40 years abruptly sprouted — galvanized and converged within the being of little Tina. She turned our collective daughter; our relative wherein the problem of MMIWG may very well be intimately understood and nurtured.
Over the previous a number of years, I’ve seen individuals — some as soon as so wholly faraway from the problem — manage, foyer, and pursue justice in her title. Tina was a change-maker in its truest which means and reflection. She additionally turned a logo of all MMIWG, and it’s on this sacred area that Tina turned the quintessential beacon of hope. Hope for justice, decision, understanding; hope for creating household throughout the Canadian collective; and hope for an finish to the slaughter of Indigenous girls and women within the nation.
Tina’s homicide meant governments may not blithely disregard the pleas of MMIWG households and communities, and Nationwide Indigenous Organizations’s name for a nationwide inquiry. On December 6, 2015, the Nationwide Inquiry Into Lacking and Murdered Indigenous Girls and Ladies was officially announced. Two days later, Raymond Cormier was charged with the murder of Tina Fontaine.
I used to be with my soul sister, MLA colleague, and MMIWG member of the family, Bernadette Smith — whose personal sister, Claudette Osborne-Tyo, went missing July 25, 2008 — in Ottawa for the nationwide inquiry announcement. We have been attending the primary pre-consultation assembly with the accountable federal Ministers when my cellphone started ceaselessly ringing. It was the Winnipeg Police Service calling to let me know they have been about to announce an arrest within the homicide of Tina Fontaine.
Twenty minutes later, Bernadette and I sat collectively within the washroom crying after studying the Winnipeg Police Service press launch and seeing Cormier’s face for the primary time whereas trying to emotionally course of what we have been coming to know. On the identical time, there was additionally a right away sense of reduction that somebody was being charged with murdering Tina.
A whole bunch of MMIWG households continue to wait for somebody — anybody — to inform them the place their infants are, or that somebody is to be charged of their family members’ homicide or disappearance. There are the ladies whose fragments of DNA have been discovered on the “murder farm” of Canada’s most prolific serial killer, Robert Pickton, who claimed to have killed 49 girls, however was solely charged with six murders. One additionally displays on the lives and instances of Cherise Houle, Hilary Angel Wilson, Fonassa Bruyere, Amber Guiboche, Jennifer Catcheway.
The checklist goes on and on. Would they obtain justice, maybe vicariously by means of a responsible verdict in Tina Fontaine’s homicide?
So, as justice made its sluggish solution to judgement, there was a lot invested hope that Tina would obtain her due, and that by means of her, all MMIWG would, by some means, lastly obtain some sense as effectively. There was a lot relying on a responsible verdict for Cormier. It could be, in lots of respects, a chance to revive, create, and foster religion in a damaged system that almost all Indigenous Peoples would argue discriminates against us in a myriad of colonial-driven methods.
It was a second of potential reconciliation — the identical reconciliation politicians, governments, and neighborhood businesses espouse advert nauseam as national policy.
It took three years for the trial of Richard Cormier to return to an finish. As I walked into the packed however quiet courtroom on February 22, my coronary heart fell heavy with anxiousness and concern, however I remained eager for justice for Tina and all MMIWG.
After which the decision was learn.
The 2 phrases sucked out what little air was current in our our bodies, which have been seized with gasps of disbelief and pangs of inconsolable sorrow.
I watched Thelma Favel, Tina’s nice aunt, as the decision slowly seeped into her consciousness. Bereft, cries of ache washed over her, alongside suits of anger from others. There was no justice — for Tina, for MMIWG, for the entire of Indigenous Peoples.
The subsequent day, hundreds of us gathered on the Oodena Celebration Circle in a collective present of grief and anger and comprehensible hopelessness. The gatherings have continued, with thousands gathering again in her name on March 3. As Indigenous Peoples, we are going to march on — true to the resiliency that finest characterizes our Nations’s historic and up to date struggles, and that’s exemplified most absolutely within the vigilance of MMIWG households of their pursuit of justice, regardless of its most horrific failures — failures embodied within the face of slightly lady, like so many little women: gone too quickly, however by no means forgotten.
As I left, my eyes turned towards the Crimson River. It was nonetheless and frozen. Silent. However we’re not. Nor lets ever be.