The call for a federal inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous girls and women isn’t the result of nearly 1,200 females crying out from wherever their graves may be. It isn’t history leaking blood, it is a continuing serial tragedy, and pretty little Tina Fontaine, her corpse hauled out of the Red River on the weekend in the bag her killer had stuffed her into, is just the latest instalment.
What makes Tina’s death worse is that at age 15, she was only 5’3” and weighed a feather-light 100 pounds. It was so easy for the killer to murder Tina, bag her up and dump her in the river. Even though her family and the police were looking for her, he calculated that she would be just another missing native kid, fun to torment, easy to slaughter and really easy to dispose of.
He was right. She was only found by chance while police divers searched for the corpse of a man, Faron Hall, also native, who had been seen struggling in the water. Hall’s body was also brought in. Behind the big blue tarps screening Tina’s corpse from view, Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum for Human Rights gleamed in the distance.
Tina’s story is harrowing, starting with the ID photos sent out as she went repeatedly missing after her life turned bad. There she is smiling with a cool ‘do, short on one side and long on the other, with big hoop earrings that must have made her very proud. On her slender neck just north of her throat, there is a worrying bruise or abrasion.
After Tina’s father got cancer when she was 4, her grandmother took her in, CTV reported. “She was a happy baby. She was a happy girl,” Thelma Fontaine said. But after her father was beaten to death in 2011, Tina fell apart. She was put into foster care in Powerview, Man., and then in Winnipeg, the latter a poor choice because she was both attracted to city life and unable to cope with it. Police say she may have been working the streets, and in the past year, she had run away three times. In one November 2013 notice of her disappearance, the RCMP in Powerview said she “is noted to have a history of attending Winnipeg.” That time she was found two days later but you can’t make a miserable, desperate teenager stay when she wants to flee.
“She had barely been in the city for a little over a month and she’s definitely been exploited, taken advantage of, murdered and put into the river in this condition,” Winnipeg homicide unit officer Sgt. John O’Donovan told reporters. And then he said what police are generally too brisk to say: “She’s a child. Society would be horrified if we found a litter of kittens or pups in the river in this condition. This is a child. Society should be horrified.”
O’Donovan has nailed us. We do treat aboriginal people like animals. Think of the children of Attawapiskat, a James Bay reserve which floods regularly and where children have basically been camping out in school shacks for years, begging the federal government for help. Those children are appallingly neglected.
“Yet the ones we see come down here and that we have as . . . patients, they are wonderful kids,” said a Toronto doctor who headed up north to help them. “They have got a great temperament, they’re very kind, they’re very intellectual, they are fun to be with high risk personal loans.” One Toronto rescuer was particularly upset by conditions in Moosonee. “It horrified me. There was neglect and abandonment and a very hard life.” Another said happily, “They are just lovely lovely children.”
Oh, I’m sorry, I mis-wrote myself. My mistake.
Replace “kids” and “children” with “dogs” and “doctor” with “vet” and I will be correctly quoting from a July story in the Toronto Star about white people going to Attawapiskat to treat stray dogs, “adopt” them and bring them back to Toronto. There is not a word about aboriginal children being neglected or abandoned or having a “hard life” after 150 years of colonialism, family patterns disrupted by residential school, sexual abuse, extreme poverty and hearty never-ending racism.
Dogs do as they’re told, for food. They attend obedience classes, don’t run away, don’t judge their pathetic unkempt owners, and fill a hole in the lives of inadequate people who don’t like children, much less aboriginal ones.
You may disagree. If ignoring Attawapiskat children in favour of dogs doesn’t seem harsh to you, read a 2010 Facebook post by Lorrie Steeves, a Winnipeg woman whose husband Gord is running for mayor of Winnipeg. “Lorrie Steeves is really tired of getting harrassed (sic) by the drunken native guys in the skywalks. we need to get these people educated so they can go make their own damn money instead of hanging out and harrassing (sic) the honest people who are grinding away working hard for their money. We all donate enough money to the government to keep thier (sic) sorry assess (sic) on welfare, so shut the f— up and don’t ask me for another handout!”
After the CBC reported the Steeves story on Aug. 8 — this was the last day Tina was seen alive in downtown Winnipeg — accompanied by a photo of Steeves at a gala with a big glass of white wine in front of her, Steeves apologized. I’m glad she did and I’m glad she enjoys a drink, but if this is how white Canadians think — that they are themselves exquisite while aboriginal Canadians are flawed beyond redemption and their sufferings of less interest than those of dogs — we have a long way to go. Well obviously we have a long way to go.
An inquiry into Canada’s missing and murdered women might lay this all open under a bright light, but Stephen Harper’s Conservatives call it unnecessary. In the meantime, think of Tina Fontaine of the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba. When she went missing last year, a heartfelt flyer with her picture described her, with an addendum: “Scars on both arms.”
People cut themselves when they’re hurting. Tina was hurting badly. The flyer also warned passersby, “Tina went missing before. Do NOT approach her harshly please.” She was approached harshly, one final time.