APTN National News
WINNIPEG – More than a thousand people gathered Tuesday night in Winnipeg to remember Tina Fontaine and Faron Hall on the banks of the Red River where they were both pulled from the water by police Sunday.
One of those people was Fontaine’s grieving mother.
“She was supposed to be in a safe house not on the streets. Not in the river,” Fontaine’s mother told the gathering. “You were only 15 years old.”
Fontaine’s body was discovered by police divers when they were searching for Hall, 40, who had fallen in the river last Friday by the Anderson Docks.
She was found in a bag and police said she was murdered before being put in the water.
Fontaine had been missing since August 9 and had been in the care of Manitoba’s Child Family Services. Police homicide detectives are asking for the public’s help in solving her murder.
Hall, knick-named the ‘homeless hero’ after he rescued two people on separate occasions in 2009 from the same river. Police do not suspect foul play.
The smell of sage, the sounds of drums and singing and the feeling of lament filled the air by the Alexander Docks in a somewhat remote section of downtown Winnipeg.
“We all have similar stories,” said Lucy Antsanen who has two daughters and has been touched by friends who have been murdered. “It could have been our own daughters or sisters. My childhood friend has never been found … she was 21 or 22, never been found.”
Fontaine is the latest in a long list of Indigenous women who have either disappeared, or have been murdered in Canada.
In May, the RCMP released a shocking report showing that since 1980, nearly 1,200 Indigenous women or girls have gone missing or have been murdered. What has hit the community in Winnipeg particularly hard is Fontaine’s young age.
“It hits home,” said Terri Cochrane who came to the vigil with her 17 year old niece. “I used to work in a group home. I’ve seen this before. It’s my biggest fear and I worry a lot. I make sure that there is open communication with my niece. That she can always call me.”
At the waterside vigil, there were prayers and songs for both Faron Hall and Tina Fontaine. Pipes were lit and shared. The sound of drums ran through the somber crowd.
Neil Hall is Faron’s uncle.
“I had a dream about Faron last night and he is happy,” he told the crowd.
Neil Hall also said that Faron recently buried his father. That he grew up in foster care and years ago, shortly after reuniting with his mother, she was murdered.
“He found it very hard,” said Neil Hall telling the crowd that he would sing the Thunderbird song “to carry the spirits up to the good place where our relatives are.”
The vigil at the Alexander Docks ended with the families putting flowers into the water. After a moment of silence the large crowd marched to the second part of the vigil.
With sun setting and with a police escort, approximately 1,300 people marched to the Forks and the Oodena Celebration Circle, a large open bowl with a place for a sacred fire at its centre.
A drummer warmed the skin of his drum to get the sound needed for the upcoming ceremony, while waiting for the marchers to arrive. The circle sits beside a recently opened memorial for missing and murdered women.
People had no idea they would be meeting at this site so soon.
“It makes me think about my sisters,” said Caroline Flett. “My sister Barb was stabbed to death on January 17, 1992. She was 41. My other sister was attacked two weeks later but survived. No one was ever convicted.”
Flett from the Peguis First Nation holds her head in her hands listening to the song coming from the centre of the circle. She’s here with her 9 year old niece and her two friends. “
“I brought them because they need to know of the dangers,” she said.
Fontaine’s death has renewed calls for a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.
The calls are coming from a number of areas including Eric Robinson, Manitoba’s minister of Aboriginal Affairs, the commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, politicians and grassroots organizations across the country.
And that call was heard loud and clear Tuesday night as Wab Kinew, the guide through the vigil, addressed the federal government’s refusal to call for an inquiry.
“Is now the time to make that change? Is now the time we say no more stolen sisters? We say that violence against women must stop. And if we go home and do nothing about this it’s a missed opportunity,” said Kinew.
So far the Harper government has not budged on its position that an inquiry will not accomplish anything.
But Fontaine’s death has changed the tone of the debate.
Even Winnipeg police are speaking candidly about the crime.
“She’s a child. This is a child that’s been murdered. Society would be horrified if we found a litter of kittens or pups in the river in this condition. This is a child,” Winnipeg police Sgt. John O’Donovan told reporters Monday. “Society should be horrified.”
Fontaine was from the Sagkeeng First Nation, an Ojibway community 121 km north of Winnipeg. Police say she had only been in the city for a month before she disappeared.
The evening ends with Faron Hall’s uncle singing the “Travelling Song.”
“Never say goodbye I was told when someone walks out the door,” he said.
The gathering ended the same way it came together, in silence.