Monday, September 22, 2014
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Wrapped in the arms of love

Families struck by tragedies consoled at massive vigil

By: Oliver Sachgau

Winnipeg Free Press

"I love you, my girl."


That was the farewell spoken by Tina Fontaine's mother, who shares the name of her 15-year-old daughter whose body was found in the Red River Sunday.

Fontaine hadn't seen her daughter in two years. She choked on her words, letting her tears flow freely as she addressed more than 1,000 people at the Oodena Circle at The Forks Tuesday evening.

She described having detectives come to her door to tell her Tina was dead. The only way to identify the teen was by a tattoo on her back, which she got to remember her father, who was slain two years earlier.

The crowd gathered for a ceremony, walk and vigil to honour both Fontaine and Faron Hall, the so-called homeless hero, whose body was also found in the river on Sunday, a few hours after Tina's.

Some participants in the vigil were relatives of Fontaine and Hall. Some had known them in other ways. Many more only knew them from media reports.

The gathering started at the Alexandra Docks, where Fontaine's body was found. The teen went missing Aug. 9 and police believe she ran away from a foster home, where she had been living for a month.

Her body was found wrapped in a bag in the Red River as police looked for Hall's body. Police said Fontaine's death is a homicide. Hall's is not.

A memorial was set up at the dock. A teddy bear with a crafted hat, the initials "TF" written on it, sat on the edge, covering a letter from a stranger, telling Tina of the lives she had touched.

Laurence Grisdale visited the memorial an hour before the ceremony. Hall had lived with him for a few years, but Grisdale said he hadn't spoken to him recently. He found out about his death in the news. Hall, he said, was a happy-go-lucky guy, loved by those who knew him.

"He always had a laugh he shared with everybody. His laugh overtopped everybody. It's what I'll remember about him," Grisdale said.

As the family of Fontaine arrived at the dock, they hugged each other. Many sobbed, others consoled them. When the ceremony started, one female family member collapsed.

Jenna Wirch, an organizer of the event, said it was important to get as many people as possible to the ceremony, to raise awareness of Fontaine's death and because she was one of hundreds of missing and slain aboriginal women.

"When situations like this arise, we have to step up. Because if we don't step up, who will?" Wirch said.

Michael Champagne, another organizer, said the tragedies are a bleak symbol for the aboriginal community.

"We want people to understand, these are two of our relatives, but it represents entire communities that need all of our help," he said.

At the dock, members of the aboriginal community sang traditional songs and offered up prayers for Fontaine and Hall. They marched, along with more than 1,000 people, to Oodena Circle, where they lit candles for a second ceremony. Many of the speakers, including musician Wab Kinew and grand chief of the Manitoba Assembly of Chiefs, Derek Nepinak, voiced their concern about the hundreds of aboriginal women who have gone missing or have been slain.

"We must ask ourselves, when those incidents happen, are we silent? The fact that we are here tells me you are not. You are silent no more," Kinew said.

For Fontaine's family, the outpouring of support was overwhelming.

The teen's mother and uncle, Bryan Favel, said they could not believe the amount of people present at the ceremony.

"I've never been to one of these before. There's so much support... it's wonderful to see all these people," Favel said.

The pain of the teen's death was evident in her mother's words. She expressed anger at the fact her daughter ran away from foster care.

"You were supposed to be in a safe home... they found you in the river," Fontaine said.

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