Bodies pulled from Winnipeg river tell a familiar story about the plight of Indigenous people

Two bodies recently pulled from the same river were that of a First Nations man and girl. Last Sunday, Faron Hall, age unknown, and Tina Fontaine, 15, were pulled from the Red River that runs through Winnipeg, Manitoba. It is unsure if the victims knew each other but police are saying both incidents are unrelated. Even though Indigenous people make up approximately 3% of the overall population in Canada, they have one of the highest rates of homicide. According to Statistics Canada, Indigenous women alone are 3 times more likely to become victims of (sexual) violence. According to Amnesty International’s No More Stolen Sisters Report, they are 5-7 times more likely to die as a result of that violence. In another report released by Stats Canada, 610 First Nations people in Canada were victims of homicide in 2009 alone.

Studies also show that the western provinces have higher incident rates of First Nations homicide then anywhere else in Canada. Major cities like Vancouver, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Winnipeg all have high populations of Indigenous people. As many First Nations communities in the prairie provinces are often isolated and lack employment and recreational opportunities, many Indigenous people often leave reserves for the city, in the hope that more opportunities will be available to them. But this is often not the case and lack of opportunities can lead to addictions, gang affiliations, depression, homelessness and for young girls, vulnerability and being lured into the sex trade.

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Faron Hall, a member of the Dakota Tipi First Nation, spent his childhood in foster care, as many First Nations children do. He worked as a teaching assistant until addictions took over his life. His mother was murdered in Winnipeg about 10 years ago and his sister was the victim of a vicious attack 3 years ago. Hall became known as the ‘homeless hero’ when in May 2009, he jumped into the frigid waters of the Red River to save a 19 year old man. In September 2009, Hall was a hero again when he jumped into the same river to try and save two friends who couldn’t swim. He managed to save a 19 year old woman but a 32 year old man had went under the water and drowned.

Even though he received several awards for his heroic deeds, including the mayor’s Medal of Valor, he continued to struggle with addictions and remained homeless. Hall leaves behind 5 children. Hall’s body was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg last Sunday. Police continue to investigate but do not suspect foul play.

Tina Fontaine’s story is equally as tragic. Fontaine, a member of the Anishinabe Nation, grew up on the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba but in her past few years, spent time in and out of foster care. Last November, RCMP labeled Fontaine as ‘at-risk’, as police often do when it comes to First Nations youth. Fontaine was located safe several days later. This past July, Fontaine went missing again, this time from Winnipeg. The RCMP once again labeled Fontaine as ‘at-risk’. She was located safe over a week later.

On August 9, Fontaine was reported missing once again. Her body was positively identified last Sunday after she was found deceased, wrapped in a bag and floating in the Red River in Winnipeg. Police have now opened up a homicide investigation into Fontaine’s death and have evidence that she was being sexually exploited and taken advantage of, as so many young First Nations girls are in the city.

What do we know about Fontaine’s last few weeks? According to the Winnipeg Police Service, we know she was last seen alive in downtown Winnipeg on August 8th and that she was being sexually exploited. She was also in the care of Child & Family Services when she went missing and had only been in Winnipeg about a month before she was murdered. Although it is not known exactly how she died, police confirm she was found wrapped in a bag, in “a condition she couldn’t have put herself in,” stated Sergeant John O’Donovan of the Winnipeg Police Service.

According to some experts, human trafficking of First Nations girls in Canada is a huge yet underreported problem. Not only are First Nations girls overrepresented in the sex trade, especially in the western provinces, but they are targeted by pedophiles, serial rapists, serial killers, and human trafficking rings.

“It’s really underground and that’s the main reason why we still to this day cannot get at numbers [of victims],” Diane Redsky told CBC News in March 2014. Redsky is the project director for the Canadian Women’s Foundation National Taskforce on Human Trafficking which is made up of 23 experts. Many frontline workers in Manitoba, who work with the exploited women estimate that at least 90 per cent (of sexually exploited girls) are Indigenous.

In 2012, Shawn Cameron Lamb, now 54, was charged with the murder of three First Nations women in Winnipeg: Tanya Nepinak, 31; Carolyn Sinclair, 25; and Lorna Blacksmith, 18. Police suspect Lamb is involved in more murders but were never able to prove it. Both Sinclair and Blacksmith’s bodies were reportedly wrapped in plastic and dumped near garbage bins in the inner city and Nepinak’s body has not yet been recovered. Sinclair was also pregnant at the time of her death.

Police say Fontaine’s body was discovered while police were looking for another person, Hall, who had been seen struggling in the water on Friday. Both Fontaine and Hall’s bodies were pulled from the river on Sunday. Police are not treating Hall’s death as suspicious.




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