Youth Activists Raise Voices to Call for Justice for Tina Fontaine
Rally in Vancouver highlights important role young people play in supporting Indigenous rights
Reported by Gabrielle Plonka
Canada’s youth are feeling the impact of the deaths of two Indigenous youth and the outcomes of their trials and are mobilizing.
Langara and UBC students — many of whom attended last Saturday’s rally to protest the justice system they feel failed to keep Tina Fontaine,15, and 22-year-old Colton Boushie safe —have been calling on post-secondary institutions to take a stance in the fight for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous youth.
Institutions Must Be Engaged
Kelly Elizabeth White, an Indigenous activist who attended the rally, said that it is essential for post-secondary institutions to use the strength of their voice in supporting justice for Indigenous people.
“They’re the ambassadors in training our future leadership,” White said.
Christie Charles, a Musqueam activist and former Langara College student, highlighted the potential of Vancouver’s population of international students.
“No matter which race you come from, Indian, Chinese, Phillipines, whatever, we’ve all experienced some type of oppression [and] colonization. Use your privilege [and] voice to create positive change,” Charles said. “Everyone in post-secondary, their studies and chosen field can help be the change.
“Lawyers, linguists, artists, nurses, filmmakers, business entrepreneurs, scientists, family studies and community development can all add our multicultural teaching to rise up and live in love and peace.”
Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley stood trial for the second-degree murder of Boushie, a resident of the Cree Red Pheasant First Nation, while convicted criminal Raymond Cormier stood trial for the second-degree murder of Fontaine, from Sagkeeng First Nation, north of Winnipeg. Both men were found not guilty within two weeks of each other.
Students Search for Solutions
Molly Cross-Blanchard, a UBC student who attended the rally, said that there are more open discussions being facilitated on campus on missing and murdered Indigenous youth.
“I don’t think there’s enough of it yet, but it’s happening, so that’s all you can ask for, really,” she said.
Every week, Cross-Blanchard and other students meet on campus to read stories of Indigenous communities written by authors from different treaties. In her arts program, Cross-Blanchard said teachers welcome students to have open dialogue in structured classroom settings about what reconciliation means.
Education is Key
Audrey Siegl, an Indigenous activist who spoke at the rally, said students should stay educated and promote open dialogue with both Indigenous communities and governmental organizations.
“The systems are stacked against us,” Siegl said, noting that until reform of governmental systems that discriminate against Indigenous peoples is achieved, there can be no justice for victims like Fontaine and Boushie. “You get in front and you lead. Hold yourself to the highest standards and hold each other accountable.”
A Broken System
Cicely-Belle Blain, a Black Lives Matter representative, expressed anger at the rally over Fontaine being described as an at-risk youth by the Powerview RCMP.
“They never say it is colonialism, racism, classism, and failing systems that kids like Tina are at risk of,” Blain said.
Fontaine’s father was murdered in 2011, after which she spent time living between family and in foster care before travelling to Winnipeg in 2014 to reconnect with her birth mother.
Fontaine is reported to have gone missing from Child and Family Services custody several times in the following weeks, and was in contact with police and admitted to hospital within days of her disappearance.
According to Charles, Fontaine’s tragic story highlights how the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is not fulfilling its promise to keep Indigenous women safe.
“Canada is supposed to be in this time of reconciliation,” Charles said. “With Colten Boushie and then Tina Fontaine, it’s a huge step backwards from what we’re trying to accomplish.”