One girl, thousands of deaths, millions of accomplices

By: Niigaan Sinclair

I have a daughter.

She’s entering teen years.

She’s my life.
It’s hard not to think of her when reading about what happened to Tina Fontaine.

The details are haunting. I can’t talk about them objectively or without emotion. Anyone who can just doesn’t feel.

I especially can’t talk about the way Tina has been represented. She was not a broken person whose blood-alcohol level or choice or whatever resulted in her treatment — regardless of what media or a lawyer says.

Tina Fontaine is a girl who endured a brutal child-welfare system and many who failed her along the way.

She is, however, more than that.

She is a daughter, a niece and a beautiful Anishinaabe young woman who, by all accounts, had dreams, plans and hopes. She is an inspiring human being who not only brought love and light to all she met, but continues to do that today.

Tina Fontaine is someone stolen from all of us, and we are lesser as a result.

It’s hard not to condemn Raymond Cormier, the man charged with killing her. Regardless of guilt, at the very least, Cormier exploited an underage girl and — according to the Crown’s final argument — had a motive: to avoid a statutory rape charge.

Cormier treated an Indigenous girl as an object he could manipulate and exploit.

Maybe even something he could dispose of.

Certainly not a human being.

Raymond Cormier is a person in our community. He is someone’s son, someone who walked our streets, someone who voted. Someone who is a Manitoban and a Canadian. Maybe he is even someone’s uncle or father. I don’t know.

And so, here we are again, at the mercy of a jury determining if a Canadian is guilty of killing an Indigenous person.

Waiting.

Regardless of the verdict, Tina is still gone. The factors that led to her murder are still here. The treatment of Indigenous women and girls remains abhorrent, brutal and violent in all factors of society — from pop culture to policy. There are more Indigenous children in the child-welfare system than the number removed during the time of residential schools. The Indian Act is still here, hammering our communities into brutal, abject poverty.

Canada has a sickness when it comes to the treatment of Indigenous peoples, and Indigenous women and girls bear the brunt of it.

Tina’s death is a product of Canada.

It’s not just one person who did this.

So, as we wait for a verdict, there may come some sense of justice — for Tina’s family, particularly.

Forgive me if I don’t hold my breath after the Colten Boushie decision, though.

In the case of a not-guilty verdict, there may never be anyone held responsible for Tina’s murder. I hope this is not the case, but it just may be.

Injustice is too often a part of Indigenous lives.

Are we tired of living in a place where this happens yet?

Every single person in Canada should ask themselves what leads to the murder or loss of thousands of women and girls like Tina — and commit themselves to stopping it.

We must be better. Men, particularly. Indigenous and Canadian men. All men.

Don’t wait for a #MeToo hashtag to make you aware of the issue. Changing the way Indigenous women and girls are treated begins with us. Now. Today.

If we’re better brothers, uncles, grandfathers and fathers, that’s how to start. If we see Tina as one of our own, as family, that’s how we make sure the violence she lived in stops.

Then the real work begins. We must help educate others and join in a march together. We must help build families. Communities. Revoke, write and implement law. Consult meaningfully. Share land and resources. Demand change and never stop till it happens.

Actually become Treaty people and not just say it at a Winnipeg Jets game.

It all feels so hard to imagine — and even idyllic — because Canada has never been this place. It’s a violent place that creates experiences like Tina’s every day.

I know this, for some, is hard to hear. But it’s true.

And it doesn’t have to be this way.

Tina’s death is on all of us. Now we have to be part of the solution.

We have to listen — especially to Indigenous women. Learn. Act.

In coffee shops, boardrooms and classrooms we have to be better. All of us.

So, as we wait, remember this.

We have a daughter, a niece, a sister.

Her name is Tina.

We never really knew her until it was too late.

But she is our life.

She is our life.

Niigaan Sinclair is an associate professor in the Department of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba.

First published in the Winnipeg Free Press on 02/21/2018. Republished with permission.

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