In this op-ed, Nahanni Fontaine, longtime advocate for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) and New Democratic Party Member of Legislative Assembly for St. Johns, explains how the death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine mobilized a movement, despite no justice from the courts.
In the fall of 2003, I gathered with approximately 20 people by the Alexander Docks on the shore of Winnipeg’s Red River — the same river and gathering space once so critical to my Peoples as a means of travel, trade, and kinship. On that brisk, chilly day, we huddled not in celebration but in mourning, shock, and disbelief.
In March of that year, 16-year-old Felicia Solomon Osborne vanished from school. In July, her arm and thigh washed ashore on the Red River , just feet from where we gathered with tobacco, prayer, and song.
At the vigil, as I watched Felicia’s family — strong, courageous, and clearly in pain, tears falling from their faces — I kept thinking, “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?”
Local media would construct Felicia as a sex worker . This wholly inaccurate description sought to situate blame squarely on the child, whose remaining body parts were never found, likely decayed elsewhere in the extensive, heavy Red River. It’s part of the “she lived a high-risk lifestyle” narrative — one that’s commonly used as a means of abrogating any societal, shared culpability in her death.
Still today, the person who killed, one of many monsters, walks the streets freely: free from consequence, free from recognition, and free from worry.
Fast-forward 11 years, and the Red River once again serves as a death-laden repository of another child, only feet from where Felicia’s body parts were found. On August 17, 2014, the body of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine — the body of a child — was found wrapped in a duvet cover by a father and son walking along the shore; her body was bloated and weighed down with more than 20 pounds of rocks . She was found alongside the muddy shoreline.
My first thought upon being notified that a body had been discovered along the river was, “Please Creator: Don’t let it be another one of our women or girls ,” but my prayers and pleas would remain unanswered, yet again.
In May 2014, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canada’s national police force, released a national dataset on MMIWG after accessing the records of more than 300 police forces across Canada. The RCMP’s “Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview” found that from November 1980 to November 2012, 1,181 Indigenous women and girls had gone missing or were murdered. To date, this is the most comprehensive number; however, it is no longer accurate since the number of Indigenous women and girls who go missing or murdered rises each year.
Winnipeg Police Service’s Detective Sergeant John O’Donavan emotionally stated in a press conference, “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 support, rage, hurt, and pain, not only from Tina’s family and the Indigenous community — who customarily usually serve as the only response to these circumstances — but from the broader collective public, who arrived in the hundreds in a moment of vigil and […]
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