More than 1,000 people attended a vigil on August 19 to honor Tina Fontaine, the 15-year-old whose bagged body was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the previous Sunday.
They were also there for Faron Hall, 40, a homeless man who had been seen in distress in the river a few days earlier and whose body was recovered the same day. The murdered teen was found as police were looking for Hall, who had earned local renown in 2009 as the Homeless Hero for having rescued two people from the same river, in separate incidents.
While no foul play is suspected in Hall’s death, that of Fontaine is considered murder. Hailing from rural Sagkeeng First Nation, she had only been in Winnipeg a month, police said.
The gathering started at 7 p.m. at the Alexander Docks, and grew over the course of the evening, GlobalNews.ca reported. They then marched to a memorial to missing and murdered aboriginal women that had been unveiled just days earlier, for a candlelight vigil. By the end the number had swelled to 1,300, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) reported.
“She was supposed to be in a safe house not on the streets. Not in the river,” said the girl’s distraught mother, who spoke at the gathering, according to APTN. “You were only 15 years old.”
The teen, who had been in foster care, had been reported missing on August 9. Police said she had only been in Winnipeg a month when she died. While they have not yet released a cause of death publicly, they are asking for the public’s help in retracing the runaway’s steps and in solving her murder.
In the wake of the crime, renewed calls are being made for a national inquiry into why indigenous women are so prone to be subject to violence. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has consistently held that such an investigation would not be useful.
The vigil was also for Hall, who the police were searching for when they found Fontaine. He had been observed in distress days earlier. Rescuers could not reach him, but continued searching. His life, too, had been marred by violence against aboriginal women. During the course of his life, his mother had been murdered and his sister stabbed. He struggled with alcoholism, among other demons, GlobalNews.ca reported. Though he tried to “beat the bottle,” as he told friend Marion Willis, he could not get into a treatment program.
“Faron was more than the hero we knew. He was also the poster guy for a treatment and correctional system that simply could not help him,” Willis said in a statement to Global News. “It’s my hope that as a society we will honor his life and all he gave by lobbying hard for change.”
Fontaine’s youth and the violence of her death have captured the nation’s attention and sparked even more calls for answers. Manitoba’s Child and Family Services agency is conducting an investigation, and more First Nations leaders have urged a national inquiry, as have Manitoba provincial officials.
“We encourage Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to show their support to the family of Tina Fontaine and Faron Hall at the vigil in Winnipeg this evening, and to join the effort to address the root causes that place too many of our people in jeopardy,” said Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Cameron Alexis in a statement about the two. “We encourage everyone to end violence against First Nations women by singing a petition to urge a National Public Commission of Inquiry and by committing oneself to live free of violence. Surely First Nations and all Canadians can agree that more must be done to keep our people safe and, wherever possible, off the streets. We must see a commitment to take immediate action and address the root causes.”