WINNIPEG — A week after Tina Fontaine’s body was pulled from the Red River, and a day after her funeral service, the focus for the community turned Sunday to a national inquiry into the deaths of more than 1,100 missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Wab Kinew, director of indigenous inclusion at the University of Winnipeg, said Sunday that the community is trying to both respect the memory of Fontaine, and to use the national attention her death has received to shed a light on missing and murdered aboriginal women.
“First and foremost, we want to respect and honour Tina Fontaine and the tough times her family is going through, and while we’re doing that, part of the solution is to turn the focus towards an inquiry,” Kinew said.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper rejected calls for an inquiry, saying what happened to Fontaine was a crime, but not a “sociological phenomenon.”
“The fact that so many indigenous women go missing or are murdered tells us that there are some broader issues at work that need to be addressed,” he said. An inquiry would be the way to identify those issues, he said.
A protest camp has sprung up at Memorial Park in response to Harper’s comments. The protestors said on Sunday they will be staying at the campsite until Harper changes his mind and calls for an inquiry.
On Saturday, Fontaine’s funeral was held in a Roman Catholic Church in her home community of Sagkeeng First Nation, located about 95 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
The church was standing room only as about 300 people crammed inside to honour their loved one. Tina’s coffin, decorated with ribbons and flowers in her favourite colour, purple, was carried outside nearly two hours later to a hearse that would take her body back to Winnipeg to be cremated.
Thelma Favel, Tina’s great-aunt, broke down in hysterics as the coffin was driven away. She looked ready to collapse in the parking lot before someone grabbed her a chair from inside the church. Her daughter, Samantha Barto, wiped her tears away with a wet cloth.
“I had to apologize to him because he did give me the responsibility of looking after his girls and keeping them safe and I felt at the church like I failed him,” she said.
Favel said she had been asked by Tina’s dad, Eugene Fontaine, to take care of his two daughters, Sarah and Tina. Eugene was killed three years ago and Favel said she felt as though she had let him down.
Winnipeg police officers canvassed parts of West Broadway last week, asking people who would have seen Fontaine between the day she went missing on Aug. 9 and the discovery of her body in the Red River on Aug. 17.
Const. Jason Michalyshen said Sunday that police were pleased with the response and information they received from those efforts, but he was not able to say whether there would be more canvassing going forward, or what police’s next steps would be.
» Winnipeg Free Press
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 25, 2014