Tina Fontaine’s body was discovered in Winnipeg’s Red River on Sunday. (Facebook)
Tonight, I’m thinking about a girl named Tina Fontaine. Her body was found in a bag in the Red River in Winnipeg on Sunday.
She was 15.
Tina Fontaine was a human being. She had hopes, dreams, fears, desires. She had a family. She had a body that was hers, that moved her spirit through this life. Until someone denied her her humanity and decided she wasn’t worthy of it, taking her life — and all the promise and possibility that came with it — and dumping her in the river. Like she was trash. Like she was nothing.
Her body was found during a search for someone else’s body.
Tina Fontaine’s name is now among those of Canada’s missing and murdered Aboriginal women, a number that nears 1,200. Except she wasn’t a woman; she was barely a teenager. Tina Fontaine never got to become a woman.
Her name joins those of Indigenous Manitoba women such as Tanya Nepinak, Jennifer Catcheway, Helen Betty Osborne, Sunshine April Wood, Jamie McGuire, Amanda Jane Cook, Tatia Ulm, Felicia Solomon and the list (tragically, horrifically) goes on. Women whose lives were stolen and whose bodies were found in the river. In garbage bins. In drainage ditches.
Many have not been found at all.
It’s appropriate, of course, to feel sad and hopeless. I mostly feel angry. When I heard the news, my stomach dropped. HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN AGAIN?
This is a decades-long epidemic in Canada and, as yet, there’s been no national inquiry. How many more women need to go missing or be brutalized before someone starts to take this seriously? Why does the discussion always come back to oblique references to ‘high-risk lifestyles’ and the “danger she was putting herself in” — which is a quote from Winnipeg police Sgt. John O’Donovan, in reference to Tina, who had run away from foster care.
The danger she was putting herself in.
When are we going to stop accepting violence against women as an inevitability?
First Nations women face disproportionately higher rates of gendered violence in this country than non-Indigenious women — and Winnipeg is home to the largest urban Aboriginal population in Canada. This is happening right here, at home.
When is our government going to protect these women? When are WE going to protect them? When are we going to admit that we have a BIG FUCKING PROBLEM in this country?
I live in a city in which discovering a woman’s body in the river has become ‘commonplace.’ That is absolutely not OK.
CBC Manitoba’s Marcy Markusa wrote a thoughtful blog post about Tina Fontaine and Faron Hall — another person who is in my thoughts tonight. He became a venerated local hero having rescued a few people from drowning in the river that twists its way through the heart of this city.
He battled alcoholism. He struggled with homelessness. And, on Sunday, his body, too, was pulled from the very waters he’d selflessly saved other human lives from.
Markusa spoke with Niigaan Sinclair, an assistant professor in Aboriginal Studies at the University of Manitoba and an all-around awesome guy who I had the privilege of having as a high-school teacher. She asked him what we could do to prevent deaths like Tina and Faron’s.
His answer to her was simple:
If we begin to see Faron and Tina as human beings, as daughters for all of us, as brothers for all of us, we can begin to change. We can begin to see that the North End is as much our community as the South End. It’s as simple as forming relationships with your neighbour. It’s forming relationships with places that you might be taught to be scared of. No human being is born to hate or to deny or to fear one another. We’re taught that.
It’s so obvious — a simple truth that gets buried under narratives about how there are ‘no easy answers’ or ‘easy solutions.’
I’m with Sinclair and Markusa. “It’s easy to remember that we are human beings,” Markusa writes. “There isn’t a single solitary one of us that deserves to be pulled lifeless out of the river.”
This problem belongs to us all. There is no us and them. We all need to care about each other and protect each other.
Peace be with you, Tina and Faron.