The murder of an Indigenous woman in Winnipeg is reopening old wounds
A cousin of Tina Fontaine, whose murder sparked a national call for an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in 2014, died in hospital earlier this week after she was shot in the back of the head and her house was set on fire, according to reports from her family.
29-year-old Jeanenne Fontaine, the second Indigenous women shot and killed in Winnipeg since Sunday, was found inside of her burning home on Winnipeg’s north end Tuesday, her family told the CBC.
They said Jeanenne was rushed to hospital, but was taken off life support late Wednesday morning. She was a mother of three.
Winnipeg police haven’t confirmed her family’s report, but are investigating the incident as a homicide and believe the fire was set deliberately. In an interview with the CBC, Constable Jason Michalyshen said Winnipeg police have visited the house Jeanenne was found in many times for a “variety of matters.” A 22-year-old man was shot in the lower body at a house party there three months ago, which he recovered from.
Michalyshen said that while autopsy results are still pending, the shooting and injuries Jeanenne sustained from the fire are attributed to her death. He wouldn’t confirm whether the shooting was random or targeted, but did say that investigators would probe any potential connections to gang or drug activity.
Jeanenne’s aunt, Rhonda Flett, called her a “lively, beautiful Native girl” and that “She’s going to be very missed.”
“We’re going to miss her a lot. A piece of our family got taken and can’t be replaced,” Flett said.
According to her family, Jeanenne moved into the north Winnipeg home after the death of her 15-year-old cousin Tina Fontaine in 2014 . Tina’s body was found wrapped in plastic in the Red River 10 days after she was reported missing. Her murder sparked national outrage in 2014 over the inadequate resources given to investigations of missing and murdered Indigenous women, spurring calls for a national inquiry.
Police have charged 54-year-old Raymond Cormier with second degree murder, and Manitoba Justice has signalled that he will go straight to trial without a preliminary hearing.
Shortly before Tina’s death, an RCMP report revealed that 1,181 cases of homicides and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls were opened between 1980 and 2012. But the Native Women’s Association of Canada says the number closer to 4,000. A national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women was launched after Trudeau’s Liberal Party took power in late 2015.
The inquiry’s website states that 16 percent of women murdered in Canada between 1980 and 2012 were Indigenous despite their comprising only four percent of Canadian women. The inquiry has been given a mandate to examine the systemic causes of violence by probing institutional practices, cultural factors, and government policy.
Jeanenne isn’t the only Indigenous woman shot and killed in Winnipeg this week. Her death comes just three days after Shania Chartrand, a 21-year-old Indigenous woman, was shot and killed in Winnipeg Sunday night. Police haven’t made an arrest related to Chartrand’s death.
— Nahanni Fontaine (@NahanniFontaine) March 16, 2017
Police had charged Fontaine with human trafficking in 2015, but she denied the accusations.
“I’ve never made anybody work for me at all,” she told the CBC in 2015. “I did it for me, for myself, for my habits, nobody else.”
Fontaine had struggled with drug addiction, especially since her cousin’s death.
Many advocates for an inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women have implored the commissioners to look into the role that over-policing, drug addiction, poverty, sex work, and trauma have had on Indigenous women.
Flett urged anyone with information about Jeanenne’s death to come forward, telling the CBC that their family needs closure.
“We’ve been through enough with Tina,” she said.
Family members have set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for her mother. The page says she lost everything in the fire, and they hope to raise enough money to buy household items and new clothing.
The inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women will likely reveal its interim findings in November.
Cover: Jeanenne Fontain (GoFundMe)