Marcy Markusa: Hopelessness and a way forward

The lives and deaths of Faron Hall and Tina Fontaine have so much to tell us about the challenges in our community — the challenges that belong to all of us if we are to have any hope of moving beyond them, writes Marcy Markusa of CBC's Information Radio.
Flowers and tobacco form a makeshift memorial for Tina Fontaine at the Alexander Docks in Winnipeg on Tuesday. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC)

I don't know about you, but I'm feeling a great sense of hopelessness today.

On the show this morning, we spent some time remembering Faron Hall and Tina Fontaine, two people whose bodies were pulled from the river.

Their lives and deaths have so much to tell us about the challenges in our community — the challenges that belong to all of us if we are to have any hope of moving beyond them.

I've been asking myself how a 15-year-old girl can spend a month in Winnipeg and end up being pulled out of the water in a bag?

Wednesday marks the second anniversary of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine's body being pulled from the Red River. (Facebook)
I mean, how big are the "cracks in the system" that 1,200 women fall through and end up murdered or missing?

And how can a homeless man with addictions, turned into a public hero, end up dead in the river despite an outpouring of support? If the "system" couldn't reach Faron Hall, then who can it reach?

I'll be honest: I feel small in the face of these challenges, overwhelmed in finding a starting point.

Compassion and understanding only go so far before I ask myself what my actual role is in giving people a better chance to survive and live in the Winnipeg that has given my family a peaceful and prosperous life.

So I asked Niigaan Sinclair for his opinion. He works in aboriginal studies at the University of Manitoba and he is one of the organizers of a vigil tonight for Faron and Tina.

'This issue is so easy to fix'

My question to him was, "What can we do better as a community in honour of both Faron and Tina and to prevent deaths like theirs in the future?"

To my surprise, he suggested that making a change would not be that hard.

"This problem, this issue is so easy to fix. If we begin to see Faron and Tina as human beings, as daughters for all of us, as brothers for all of us, we can begin to change," he said.

"We can begin to see that the North End is as much our community as the South End.  It's as simple as forming relationships with your neighbour. It's forming relationships with places that you might be taught to be scared of."

I asked him more about the idea of fear: "Do you think it's fear of each other or is it selfishness? Do we not care enough about each other?"

He replied, "It starts with fear. No human being is born to hate or to deny or to fear one another. We're taught that. We're taught that through pop culture, through media  the outcome of that is we begin to isolate one another and then we begin to feel selfish.

"We want to protect our goods and our profits and our items in areas of the city … and when we do that we neglect, we forget and we ultimately deny one another,"

He went on to say, "We can turn the page on this issue if we come together."

Remembering Faron Hall's rescue

To me, it seems if there was ever an opportunity to come together, it is today. A chance to dive into unknown waters, just like Faron did to save that first young man from drowning in the river in 2009.

His interview at the time is particularly poignant.

This is what Faron Hall said to CBC about what it felt like to save the teenage boy: "He was fighting me and I told him, 'Don't fight me; otherwise, we're both going to drown. I'm trying to help you. I kept yelling, 'Don't give up, my boy, turn over on your back. I know it's cold, but I'll get us to shore."

Faron went on to say, "[It feels] exhilarating that I helped another human being. I got a chance to see him before I left the hospital last night. I gave him a kiss on the forehead. He just said, 'I'm sorry that I put your life in danger' … I just said, 'You know what? You're a human being [and] I'm a human being.'  I gave him a hug and that was it."

For a man so marginalized, Faron Hall certainly didn't need anyone to help him understand how a community is built.

As for Tina Fontaine, somebody out there didn't see her as a human worthy of living, and the tragedy of that is too much to comprehend.

I am repeatedly told by people that many of the problems in our province are multi-layered, difficult and can't be "solved" simply. I, however, have decided to adopt Niigaan's philosopy that it's easy. 

It's easy to remember that we are human beings. There isn't a single solitary one of us that deserves to be pulled lifeless out of the river.

I hope Niigaan will see all of us at the vigil Tuesday night.

Marcy Markusa is the host of Information Radio on CBC Radio One 89.3 FM / 990 AM in Winnipeg.