Tina Fontaine’s family mourns loss as 9-year anniversary of her body’s discovery looms

Nearly nine years after Tina Fontaine’s body was found in Winnipeg’s Red River, her family and community are determined to keep her memory alive — and join in on calls to support other missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

“I just wish that she didn’t have to end up like that, that it didn’t have to end up like that. And that she could still be here,” said Fontaine’s brother, Elroy Fontaine, 17.

People walked from The Forks to Alexander Docks Thursday evening where they lit candles in honour of Tina Fontaine, whose 72-pound body was pulled from the river on Aug. 17, 2014.

Calls to support other missing and murdered Indigenous women also rang out, including calls to search a Winnipeg-area landfill for two homicide victims, Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran. 

Harris’s daughter, Cambria, was one of the dozens who took part in the memorial.

A person stands under an umbrella and takes a picture of a river with a cell phone.
Supporters walked in the rain on Thursday from The Forks Oodena Celebration Circle to Alexander Docks, where Tina’s body was found nearly nine years ago. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

“It’s very emotional. I’m very proud and honoured that people did come, and I’m proud and honoured that I get to stand up with Cambria [Harris] and all these wonderful people and use my voice,” Fontaine said.

Tina was 15 years old when her body was found wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down in the river by rocks. Police arrested Raymond Cormier and charged him with her murder, but he was acquitted in February 2018, and no one has ever been convicted in her death.

Her death led to national outcry, and she soon became a national symbol of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

While her loss is devastating, her brother said he believes it happened for a reason — to spread awareness about the issues Indigenous women and girls like her face.

“It woke the nation. It opened people’s eyes,” Fontaine said.

Two people sit on steps. One hold an umbrella.
Jessica Courchene, right, said the issues Tina faced before her death have only gotten worse. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

Tina, who was from Sagkeeng First Nation, was in the care of Child and Family Services when she died. She began to struggle after her father was murdered in 2011, and soon fell into a world of addiction, homelessness and sexual exploitation after she went to Winnipeg to reconnect with her mother.

The night before she was last reported missing, she was dropped off with a contracted care worker at a downtown hotel, but she later walked away.

People stand on stairs in front of a tree. One person holds a red sign that says "Say her name. Tina Fontaine. We want justice."
Raymond Cormier was charged with Tina’s murder but was acquitted in February 2018. No one has ever been convicted in her death. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

A 2019, the Manitoba advocate for children and youth report made five recommendations on how the government and other public bodies could better support youth like Tina, touching on education, mental health, justice and child welfare.

But Jessica Courchene, who is from Sagkeeng First Nation, said not much has changed since the young girl was found.

“You think [about] nine years ago, when this happened, and there were lots of cries for change and whatnot … you know, you need to look after our girls more, police need to step up, our legal system needs to get better,” she said at The Forks Thursday, before the group walked to Alexander Docks.

“And here we are almost a decade later and nothing has changed. I’d argue it’s almost gotten worse.”

She said the outcome of Tina’s murder case was “pure injustice” to both the teen and other Indigenous women and girls, since no one was ever convicted.

“It makes you lose hope a bit because it’s like, ‘Well, if that was me, do I get my justice in the end?'”

People stand under umbrellas on a paved walkway that says "Tina" and has a red dress painted on it.
Tina, who was in the care of Child and Family Services when she died, fell into a world of addiction, homelessness and sexual exploitation after she went to Winnipeg to reconnect with her mother shortly before her death. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

While seeing people gather to support missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls’ issues is encouraging, Courchene said it’s something her community shouldn’t have to do.

“These are things that we shouldn’t have to … rally up about, you know, every few months because nothing’s being done,” said Courchene, adding that the Prairie Green landfill should be searched for Harris and Myran.

Aundrea Spence, also from Sagkeeng, said she’s been in CFS care herself, and more resources are still needed for those in the system.

“A lot of Indigenous youth grow up in the system, which is broken. We fall through the cracks a lot,” she told CBC on the way to Alexander Docks.

How Tina Fontaine’s death forced a community to take action

Tina Fontaine was a ward of Child and Family Services when she died five years ago — a tragedy that sparked community action to prevent the system from failing someone again.

“We need to set our youth up to succeed. We need resources, we need housing, we need … therapy, addictions, counselling. We need to set up our youth to succeed, and CFS is not doing a really good job at that,” Spence said.

That’s why, Spence added, she’s trying to raise awareness for Tina and MMIWG issues.

“These issues are still going on today.”

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