'It helps me a lot to know we're not alone': Tina Fontaine's great-aunt on support during Cormier trial

Seven people gathered around Thelma Favel in a circle on Thursday while she shared the pain she's been carrying from the Raymond Cormier murder trial.

Healing circle held to help Thelma Favel, who raised slain girl, deal with what she's heard in court

Seven people gathered around Thelma Favel in a circle while she shared the pain she's been carrying from the Raymond Cormier murder trial. 2:00

Seven people gathered around Thelma Favel in a circle while she shared the pain she's been carrying from the Raymond Cormier murder trial.

A healing circle was organized in her honour at the Giigewigamig Traditional Healing Centre in Pine Falls on Thursday.

"It helps me a lot to know we're not alone," said Favel. 

In the circle, she talked about her great-niece, Tina Fontaine, whose body was pulled from the Red River in 2014.

"I'm always thinking about it, always, I just don't know what happened, I'd like to know, but I'll never get that chance to ask her," said Favel.
The ceremony took place on Thursday at the Giigewigamig Traditional Healing Centre in Pine Falls, Man. (Lyza Sale/CBC News)

Cormier, 56, is being tried before Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal and a jury of eight women and four men. He has pleaded not guilty.

Favel sat through the first week of testimony, where she heard details about drugs and alcohol in the 15-year-old's system and that she had been couch surfing in Winnipeg.

"It's so painful and especially to see the people who she was hanging around with," said Favel. 

She said the girl she is hearing about in court is very different than the girl she raised in Sagkeeng. 

"My Tina was polite, funny, she made you laugh all the time and always doing something to make everybody happy. That's the Tina I'll always remember," said Favel.

'That made me feel closer to her'

The ceremony was as much for Fontaine as it was for Favel. The group did a berry ceremony, where they ate strawberries and raspberries to feast for the teen's spirit. 

"We used the baby shell [smudge] bowl to represent Tina as well," said Sagkeeng councillor Marilyn Courchene. 

Courchene was by Favel's side at the trial last week. Chief and council paid for Favel to stay in a downtown hotel so it would be easier on her to attend court every day.

"I even stayed in the hotel where she was last at," said Favel about the Best Western Charterhouse Hotel, where Fontaine was placed by Child and Family Services. 

"That made me feel closer to her, knowing that she was there, that was the last place she was at before she died."

A special healing ceremony was held in Pine Falls, Man., to help Tina Fontaine's great aunt Thelma Favel deal with painful details emerging from court. 1:17

Favel decided to stay home in Sagkeeng this week and she reached out to Courchene for support.

"They needed to hear as well to support her," said Courchene. "As they proceed with the courts and stuff we'll continue on with Thelma ... keep her at home and keep her safe and make her aware that we're here."

Favel said she will attend the trial next week. She said despite the painful details, it is helping her heal.

"Each time they talk about her in court I am able to say goodbye, piece by piece."

About the Author

Jillian Taylor

CBC Reporter

Jillian Taylor has been with CBC Manitoba since 2012 and has been reporting for a decade. She was born and raised in Manitoba and is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation. In 2014, she was awarded the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association's travel bursary, which took her to Australia to work with Indigenous journalists. Find her on Twitter: @JillianLTaylor