Tina’s body was found in the same spot where, in March 1961, the remains of Jean Mocharski were found—the first cold case from Winnipeg in a new database of murdered and missing Aboriginal women.
The 43-year-old mother of seven had been beaten and stabbed. “We value dogs more than we do these women,” says indigenous playwright Ian Ross.
Thelma, an eloquent mother of three, and her husband, Joseph, had been caring for Tina and Sarah since they were three and four, when their father, Eugene, was diagnosed with lymphoma.
(Their mother had left the girls as babies.) Eugene had been raising the girls on his own in Winnipeg, where he worked at a tire plant. But he never had the chance to bring them back home to Winnipeg. Last spring, Tina ran away twice to Winnipeg to visit her mom—a relationship Thelma encouraged, feeling the girl needed another parental bond after losing her dad.
He knew the girls would be better off with Thelma, his aunt, who had helped raise him. 21, 2003, which still hangs in a simple wooden frame in Thelma’s living room in Powerview-Pine Falls, about 100 km northeast of Winnipeg, Eugene signed over temporary custody of Tina, his “little monkey,” and Sarah, whom he’d lovingly nicknamed “chubby.” Tina, a beautiful wisp of a girl, flourished at École Powerview after Thelma pulled her and Sarah from their reserve school. Her boyfriend was deaf; the pair communicated by texting. He became addicted to his pain medication and the alcohol he was using to cope. 31, 2011—just shy of the four months doctors told him he had left to live—Eugene was beaten to death in a dispute over money. In early July, she allowed Tina to visit her mom in Winnipeg for a week: it was her reward for excellent grades that June.
The night before she left, the family gathered to pray and ask for protection, as they do every night.
They came after Nunavummiuq musician Tanya Tagaq, last year’s Polaris Music Prize winner, who complained that while out to lunch in downtown Winnipeg where she was performing with the city’s ballet this fall, “a man started following me calling me a ‘sexy little Indian’ and asking to f–k.” They came the very week an inquest issued its findings in the death of Brian Sinclair, an indigenous 45-year-old who died from an entirely treatable infection after being ignored for 34 hours in a city ER.
They came in the wake of a civic election dominated by race relations after a racist rant by a frontrunner’s wife went viral: “I’m really tired of getting harassed by the drunken native guys” downtown, Gord Steeves’s wife, Lori, wrote on Facebook.
“If things don’t work out, use the calling card and I’ll come get you,” she said.This one from a teacher (now on unpaid leave) at Kelvin High School, long considered among the city’s progressive schools—alma mater to just about every Winipegger of note, from Marshall Mc Luhan to Izzy Asper, Fred Penner and Neil Young.Badiuk’s comments came to light the day Rinelle Harper—the shy 16-year-old indigenous girl left for dead in the city’s Assiniboine River after a brutal sexual assault—spoke publicly for the first time after her recovery.Even Thelma Favel, who raised Tina, believes her niece did not die in vain.Meaningful change will not come easily, but all this holds the promise, however faint, of a more hopeful future for the city.Winnipeg is arguably becoming Canada’s most racist city.But indigenous activists believe Tina Fontaine’s death also marked a turning point in race relations; that, for perhaps the first time, the brutalization and murder of a 15-year-old was not dismissed in Winnipeg as an “Aboriginal problem.” Ironically, from the fall’s horrific events, a sense of unity has begun to emerge.She called for an inquiry to help explain why so many indigenous girls and women are being murdered in Winnipeg, and elsewhere in Canada.Badiuk’s comments came while the city was still reeling from the murder of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old child from the Sagkeeng First Nation who was wrapped in plastic and tossed into the Red River after being sexually exploited in the city’s core.Licence plates here bear the tag “Friendly Manitoba.” But events of last fall served to expose a darker reality.The Manitoba capital is deeply divided along ethnic lines.