SAGKEENG FIRST NATION -- When 15-year-old Tina Fontaine's body was pulled from the Red River last Sunday, an outpouring of anger, sadness and grief enveloped the country. Why was a teen girl being pulled out of the murky waters wrapped in plastic? Answers are still scarce and as murky as the river itself.
On Saturday, friends, family and community members met on the Sagkeeng reserve for an emotional tribute to Tina. The sky opened up and sent rain down on the First Nations community, some 90 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, as the funeral service began at 2 p.m.
The Roman Catholic Church was standing room only as about 300 people crammed inside to honour their loved one. Tina's coffin, decorated with ribbons and flowers in her favourite colour, purple, was carried outside nearly two hours later to a hearse that would take her body back to Winnipeg to be cremated.
'I had to apologize to him because he did give me the responsibility of looking after his girls and keeping them safe and I felt at the church like I failed him'
Thelma Favel, Tina's great-aunt, broke down in hysterics as the coffin was driven away. She looked ready to collapse in the parking lot before someone grabbed her a chair from inside the church. Her daughter, Samantha Barto, wiped her tears away with a wet cloth.
Favel said she had been asked by Tina's dad, Eugene Fontaine, to take care of his two daughters, Sarah and Tina. Eugene was killed three years ago and Favel said she felt like she had let him down.
"I had to apologize to him because he did give me the responsibility of looking after his girls and keeping them safe and I felt at the church like I failed him," she said.
After the funeral, Favel visited the cemetery behind the church. There, Eugene's body is buried and Tina's ashes will soon be buried in an urn on top of her dad.
Favel sat on top of Eugene's grave and wept as a swarm of loved ones surrounded her. Her husband, Joseph Favel, stood opposite her clutching Eugene's grave marker and crying, too.
"When I came here and looked at (Eugene), it was just like he was smiling. Something was lifted and it's like he said, 'She's with me now.' It was like I was able to breathe after that," Favel said. "He released it from me, that guilt, so I wouldn't carry on thinking that I could have done more -- that I failed him by not protecting his daughter."
Family members said Tina didn't openly grieve her father's death and noticed she wasn't her normal, happy self during the last months of her life. She was reported missing August 9 after she ran away from foster care. Her family believes she went to see her biological mother in Winnipeg. She had visited her earlier in July, but didn't know her growing up.
"She was taking it hard and was confused. She was trying to join all these programs and it didn't help her. Everybody kept turning her down and everything," said her cousin, Joseph Guimond.
Guimond and his girlfriend, Brittany Sanderson, tried to lift Tina's spirits. They had a baby, Tyrone Guimond, and asked Tina to be his godmother. The couple last saw Tina on June 26 and had their son a day later, so Tina and Tyrone never met.
"She is still his godmother," said Sanderson. She knew Tina had a way with kids and was the perfect candidate.
Tina's older brother, Dillon St. Paul, grieved by cutting off his long, braided ponytail during his sister's funeral. He laid the braid on top of her coffin, a family tradition.
"When they lose a loved one, especially when they're really close like they were, brother and sister... that's their tradition to cut their hair. When you lose a loved one, you have to let your hair grow again," explained cousin Krystal Fontaine.
Another tradition, a four-day wake with a crackling fire that symbolized Tina's spirit, also ended Saturday. After Tina's funeral and a subsequent feast, the leftover food was taken back to the Favel's home to be burned in the fire. This gesture nourished Tina's spirit, her aunt, Lee Bacon, explained.
"It's just so sad that some monster had to take her from us," said Krystal Fontaine. "It hurts -- she didn't get to live a full life. She was a baby."