In August, Stephen Harper claimed that Tina Fontaine’s murder shouldn’t be viewed “as a sociological phenomenon,” but as a “crime” (note: if you want to hear a funny joke, read that last sentence again). However, with the current protests and campouts at Manitoba legislature, the Aboriginal women posting images of themselves captioned, “am I next?” and the Canadian premiers’ call to have a roundtable discussion on the deaths of more than 1,100 missing or murdered Aboriginal women, the issue seems to be a sociological problem for the Conservative Party nowadays.
I don’t mean this as an insult. Hardly. Nothing is insulting about where and how someone grew into their circumstances (unless the environment is some remote, backwater place like Sudbury). But the atmosphere in which Harper developed his isolationist, reductionist stance seems steeped in basic ignorance, general misconceptions, and a overall lack of the foresight and honesty we expect of a Prime Minister. The Prime Minister governs people as a society, not as individualized snowflakes. To attempt the latter would be to forget other snowflakes are falling while the one you try to hold melts.
Listen. Harper’s sociological complex and the Conservative mantra of replacing “we” with “I”, “you”, or whatever else is used these days as lonely directive, has been well documented. What hasn’t been figured out is the why. Although trying to understand Harper’s brain is like trying to understand why men have nipples–or even more perplexingly, what men would look like without nipples–we can guess. Harper’s political scheme focuses on the individual since it is easier to reduce than to look at the mess of a tossed salad that is the people’s context and background. It’s less nurturing, sure, but it’s simple to say, “see this thing we’re doing, see the effect it causes, and look at all these other explicit, causal relationships, where Harper does and says things and sometimes does things that he says.”
For example, he erased the long form census, to avoid knowing about the population he oversees. He hangs around alleged criminals, and hires them. And he apologized for the very same cultural genocide that may have had a part in, if not precipitated entirely, the murder of Tina Fontaine. Yet Harper remains conservative. As the name suggests, he keeps doing what he is doing–looking solely at an individual rather than the environment that makes them an individual–and not much more (but at least, not much less).
Tina Fontaine’s murder is a prime example of such singularity. By directing attention on the criminal prosecution, rather than the atmosphere that results from it or by it, one only sees the surface: a crime is a crime is a crime. She was murdered. She was a person like everyone else. And she died like everyone else too, minus the plastic wrapping.
While this direct, one-dimensional reasoning brings with it a seemingly humanistic goal (to show that we’re all the same, and all as important and unimportant as anyone else), it is horseshit to anyone who has lived in modern civilization. Our relationships to places, people, or things define us. In Tina’s case, digging only a bit deeper produces a narrative that spills out uncontrollably to a reader who tries to digest it, which says nothing about living it.
Tina Fontaine’s mother was an alcoholic. Her father was ill and later beaten to death. She was in child custody. She was an Aboriginal woman. Aboriginal women are 3-5 times more likely to experience violence than non-Aboriginal women, often from aboriginals. Two third of all aboriginal youth, 15 to 34, are likely to experience violent incidents. The spousal homicide rate is eight times higher for Aboriginal women than white women (38x more likely for men in some instances). Aboriginal people are more likely to face non-spousal violence.
These are just the explicit facts, facts that Harper is altogether denying through his rhetorical pigeonholing. Yet they do not completely describe Tina Fontaine’s life any more than Harper telling interviewers how many cats he has. In both cases, one is looking at that hairball instead of what caused it. What is relevant—beyond the facts, probabilities, and certainties—are the interconnected undertones that surround each why and how. One moment does not just lead to another. Instead, one moment leads to everything that happened and everything that didn’t.
Tina Fontaine, her family, her friends, and an entire population suffered directly and indirectly because of the repression of Native culture. Colonial structures created a reality where there are dramatic poverty rates for many First Nations, where suicide is rampant, where substance abuse is commonplace, where prostitution is more common, where aboriginal men and women are less likely to achieve post-secondary education, and so on and so on and so on until we find ourselves in 1763. From there, we draw the line back to the present and find out that not much has changed between then and now.
Yet in Harper’s individualistic treatment of Tina Fontaine’s case, this sentiment is denied through the illusion of normality. Her death becomes a legislative process, an investigation, rather than a continual and undeniable oppression of a culture, a people, and, in the end, a fifteen-year-old girl.
By treating Tina Fontaine’s death as something unexceptional, by diminishing it to some random incident isolated from the general, Harper, whether knowingly or not, commits further subjugation. Worse yet, the marginalization, trivialization, and denial of Tina Fontaine’s background causes her to die a thousand new deaths, and—perhaps the punch line is worse still—it ensures that more deaths will come.