Family and friends of Tina Fontaine gathered near a Manitoba First Nation on Saturday afternoon to remember the life of the 15-year-old girl whose body was found in the Red River in Winnipeg almost a week ago.
The service for Fontaine, whose body was recovered on Aug. 17, began at the St. Alexander Roman Catholic Church at around 2 p.m. CT and ended two hours later. It was followed by a traditional feast.
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The funeral took place in the teen's home community of the Sagkeeng First Nation, which is located about 93 kilometres by road northeast of Winnipeg.
At least 200 people attended the service, including many children and teenagers, the CBC's Jillian Taylor reported from Sagkeeng.
When the presiding priest asked for a moment of personal prayer, the church was silent except for the sound of one person weeping, Taylor said.
Thelma Favel, Fontaine's great-aunt and caregiver, broke down as the girl's casket was carried away at the end of the service.
Fontaine's pallbearers, who include her brothers, cousins and uncles, wore photographs of her on feathers made of burgundy-coloured felt, in a nod to Tina's favourite colour.
"She's been stolen from us," Robyn Fontaine, Tina's aunt, said before the funeral.
"She was just so outgoing and happy, and she had every intent of finishing school and getting her job, and she just wanted the best for her little sister and her brothers."
Fontaine's body was found in a bag that was pulled out of the Red River near the Alexander Docks in Winnipeg.
Police are treating her death as a homicide. No arrests have been announced to date.
Earlier this week, investigators went door to door in Winnipeg's inner city, where Tina was last seen, asking residents if they noticed anything suspicious recently.
The teen had been in foster care at the time she disappeared and was reported missing Aug. 9.
On Friday, members of Fontaine's family made offerings of tobacco around a sacred fire in a special ceremony to honour her.
The fire is meant to represent Tina's spirit, so she can be with her family as they say goodbye.
Chief of Sagkeeng First Nation Derrick Henderson was at Fontaine's funeral and said in the past 20 years, five women have been murdered or gone missing from the reserve.
“It's got to stop, the numbers have to stop there, can’t have anymore of this happening,” said Henderson. “Not only in Sagkeeng but anywhere across this country.”
Henderson says a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women is needed to help deal with the root causes of the issue.
“I hope the governments of all levels are listening to what has happened here in Sagkeeng,” said Henderson. “An inquiry is something some of the leaders are even talking about.”
Calls for national inquiry renewed
Fontaine's death has refocused attention on the still unsolved cases of hundreds of missing or murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada, with many aboriginal rights advocates, politicians and even the Canadian Human Rights Commission demanding a national public inquiry on the issue.
The Conservative government of Stephen Harper, however, has rejected these calls, with Harper saying as recently as this week that the cases are strictly a police matter and do not warrant a wider inquiry.
"We should not view this as a sociological phenomenon. We should view it as crime," Harper said Thursday during a tour of Canada's North.
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Other politicians, including Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, have criticized Harper's view and said the issue needs to be addressed on a national level.
Meanwhile, protesters have set up tents at Memorial Park, across the street from the Manitoba legislative building in Winnipeg, to renew their calls for a national inquiry.
"Mr. Harper, please, we're losing our children. We're losing our women. There is a phenomenon happening here," Sandy Banman, one of the protesters, said on Saturday.
Organizers of the camp say they plan to keep it going for at least four days, but added that they may stay longer if the issue continues to gain momentum.
Death being reviewed by Children's Advocate
Since Fontaine was under the care of Child and Family Services, her death is automatically being reviewed by Manitoba's Office of the Children's Advocate.
Favel, who said she looked after Tina and her sister for the last 11 years, told CBC News earlier this week that Tina had been struggling with the violent beating death of her father, Eugene Fontaine, in 2011.
Tina recently reconnected with her biological mother, according to her great-aunt who added that Tina had also run away from home in the months prior to her death.
Favel said she last saw Fontaine on July 1, when the teen ran away from Sagkeeng.
Favel knew her great-niece needed help, so she contacted Child and Family Services (CFS) and requested that an agency take custody of Tina.
CFS officials located Tina at some time after July 1 and placed her in foster care in Winnipeg.
Favel has said it wasn't clear when the teen was placed in foster care or when she disappeared. She said she wasn't notified that Tina was missing until she had already been gone for two weeks.
Two days after Favel was told of her disappearance, Tina's body was discovered in a bag in the Red River. Police have not released specific details about how she was found.