Andrew Lodge: Tina Fontaine and how Stephen Harper got it wrong

Tina Fontaine was laid to rest this past weekend. The 15-year-old aboriginal girl from a reserve north of Winnipeg was found a in a bag in Winnipeg's Red River recently. Police say it was a homicide.

To repeat, she was 15. And alone. Supposedly in government custody at the time of her death.

Stephen Harper, the man elected to look after his citizens, argued recently that we should not treat Fontaine's death as a "sociological phenomenon" but instead as a crime. 

Really?

For the leader of a nation to imply, following the murder of a 15-year-old kid, and with more than a thousand aboriginal women missing or murdered in this country in the past decades, that we should not be looking at root causes, is beyond the pale. The fact that Fontaine was a ward of the state only adds to the obligation.

Is Harper out of touch? Does he not get it? Or does he just not care? It's hard to tell.

Tina Fontaine grew up in the small community of the Sagkeeng First Nation just north of Winnipeg. There, Sagkeeng Chief Derrick Henderson says they have lost five women, either murdered or missing, in the past 20 years. 

It's not just women, either. In fact, more aboriginal men have been murdered in this country in the past three decades than women. Tina Fontaine's own father was killed violently three years ago. There is not a day that goes by in this country where an aboriginal person is not a victim of a violent crime. 

I have worked in Sagkeeng territory. Good people in a place ripped apart by tragedy, over and over again.

I now live and work in a remote aboriginal community in British Columbia. Everyone knows someone in our town who has died violently. These anecdotes are repeated around the country and are supported by statistics.

The average homicide rate for aboriginal people is seven times the Canadian average. Aboriginal people are reportedly twice as likely as their national counterparts to be victim of violent crime and more than twice as likely to be subjects of sexual assault. The real numbers are likely much higher.

This has got to stop. I don't know what an inquiry will produce. The report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, written almost 20 years ago, laid out the catastrophic situation in stark terms. Things haven't improved since then and in many cases have gotten worse.

We need action now, not words. And it should be coming from non-aboriginal people. Including but not only from our government. We all have a responsibility to look out for our neighbours. Our brothers and our sisters.

Across the country, there are hundreds of missing aboriginal women. Mothers. Daughters. Sisters. Friends. There are high risk youth on the streets of every city in Canada.

The jails are filled with aboriginal men and women, vastly over-represented compared with the general population; incarceration rates for aboriginal people are between seven and eight times higher than non-aboriginals in Canada. Suicide rates among aboriginal people in some regions of the country are among the highest in the world.

If this doesn't make you weep, I am not sure what will. As a wealthy, so-called developed country we should be ashamed of ourselves. This is a crisis and it has gone on far too long.

After all, this country was built on land stolen from these people. As Canadians, we have a responsibility to try, at the very least, to make things right. The hallmark of a decent society is how we treat those who are most vulnerable.

Attempt to put yourself in the headspace of Tina Fontaine's loved ones right now. As a start, we need to walk beside people who have lost so much. Otherwise, nothing will change.

Comments (11) Add New Comment
don morris
I don't like Stephen Harper either, but it's quite a stretch to blame anything to do with Ms.Fontaine on him.

Her Band was there,up close and personal,why didn't they intervene? What about Manitoba and Winnipeg's social services departments? There are many people and agencies between a young Native woman and the Prime Minister of the Country, except according to those who are blinded by partisan hatred. This isn't a political issue,it's a social issue,and the Bands and the Provinces are on the front lines,not the Federal Government.

Another inquiry is a waste of time,the problem on Reserves is well known and well documented. Those who want an inquiry,apart from the girl,s close relatives, are more concerned with appearance than in actually doing anything to alleviate the suffering.
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John Lane
The author wasn't blaming Harper for the incident but was simply pointing out that Harper is sticking his head in the sand.

Further, the author did point out that this is a social issue. So I'm not clear on what you find offensive about this article?
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John David Bourgeois
Imagine your 15-year-old friend or family member is found, wrapped in plastic, dumped in the Red River. And then Mr.Sensitive says it's not "a sociological phenomenon" ... Could you imagine him saying that if it were a little Christian or Jewish girl? YouTube has a song called "Tina's (walking) ... some of Tina's friends and family have posted on there.
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Kiskatinawkid
Answers to your questions: Yes, harper is out of touch. No, he does not get it. No, he does not care. And by they way, it's not hard to tell. He's an ideologically driven psychopath.
And a big thanks to all those intelligent citizens who showed up on election day and voted for this scumbag and his band of toadies. Nicely done!
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meglomaniac
don't forgot he's a power freak, something seriously wrong with him. is it just me or has anyone else noticed him limping/waddling when he walks? not in good shape & looks like a candidate for a heart attack. has anyone checked him out for a brain tumour(s)? out of touch, out of his mind and needs to be stopped/recalled/voted out. the page had it right when she presented her STOP HARPER sign. he's f'd so many people you'd think he was working for a foreign power. whoops, sorry. he is - China. sad state of affairs.
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I spot claptrap
Funny how the victim was under care of provincial government, a member of a "First Nation" and yet the PM of Canada is "responsible" simply because the author doesn't like him. Pathetic. Calls for a public inquiry are typical middle class white feel good demands: "we want something done" type stuff that doesn't nothing besides waste millions of taxpayer dollars whilst doing nothing for women like Tina Fontaine. Her death has become nothing more than another occasion to bash the least popular man in Canada and he has about as much responsibility for Ms. Fontaine's death as favourite straight target Christ Clark. The funny thing is that the government that was "caring" for Ms. Fontaine was an NDP government.

The sad truth is nobody who "cares" actually wants anything done to help women like Ms. Fontaine because her death is just another political moment whereas actually helping her requires accomplishing something besides spending money and mouthing platitudes. The only "solution" permitted government for FN problems is to give Chiefs more money and less oversight, which seems absurd given how little oversight their is and how much money slimy disappears into accounts known only to leadership. Keeping their people in poverty is good business for many FN leaders and good ideology for other, the few who truly want to make their people self-sufficient and proud of now rather than pining for a mythological past that never was are shouted down by those with a perpetual handout.

The failure to protect Ms. Fontaine starts where she lived with her band/tribe and not with an idiot sitting in Ottawa.
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kate
I just heard the comments from Greg Selinger of Manitoba on the radio. He spoke as if things might change. I don't know very much about the issues of aboriginal people and I'm not from Canada so there is little I should be commenting on but as a mother, I do hope this issue finds a good end.
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Mike Phelan
"that we should not be looking at root causes, is beyond the pale.". Andrew, don't we already know the root causes? It's 2014. There are volumes written on this subject. Fact is the girl was in the care of Sagkeeng Child and Family Services. Why aren't questioning their competence? If there is a sociological failing here, it's that the system keeps failing aboriginal children (Phoenix Sinclair, etc.) and *nobody* ever gets fired. W
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blah
Jesus Andrew, Harper wants to treat a crime as a crime and you object while talking about how YOU have all the answers. Inquiries are nothing but a money pit for lawyers and serve no real value. If YOU want to really accomplish something, then YOU have to get involved on a local level to make some real change. Don't use the death of a young girl as a reason to bash a politician you don't like just so YOU can feel better. What a lousy article.
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Louise
Thank you Andrew for your article. As native women it is good to know a non aboriginal person actually cares enough to write an article about this. Very interesting comments, some people just don't get it!! Thanks Andrew for caring. You have a big heart and lots of compassion.
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John David Bourgeois
The Tina Fontaine Murder and Harper's "not a sociological phenomenon" comment will go down in history as the beginning of his rapid fall from power.
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