Academic journal article Borderlands

'Hell Holes': Unmapping Settler Colonial Geographies and Child Welfare in Manitoba

Academic journal article Borderlands

'Hell Holes': Unmapping Settler Colonial Geographies and Child Welfare in Manitoba

Article excerpt

On August 17, 2014 the body of 15-year old Tina Fontaine was dragged out of the Red River in Winnipeg. Tina was murdered, wrapped in a plastic bag, and dumped in the river. Not much else is released of her slaying, except that she 'has been exploited and taken advantage of' (CBC 2014a) before she was killed. Tina had only been in Winnipeg for a month. She was also under the custody of Manitoba's Child and Family Services (CFS), which brought her to city. Tina grew up with her great-aunt in the reserve community of Sagkeeng First Nation. She was described as a 'happy girl' (cited in Commissio 2014). Then, in 2011, Tina's father was brutally murdered and the teenager was deeply distraught over his death. Seeking help for Tina, her great-aunt turned to various CFS agencies to get counseling services for the teenager. This she was refused each time. Instead, Tina ended up in a foster home in Winnipeg. Tina ran away from her CFS placement and was reported missing on August 9th--a week before her body was found. Incidentally, the police were not looking for Tina that day. Her body was discovered by accident as they were searching for the body of Faron Hall, an Indigenous man who drowned in the river. Hall, who had saved two people from drowning in the river on two separate occasions, was an advocate for the city's homeless. He himself had been living on the streets of Winnipeg for the past 15 years, much of this time under the Provencher Bridge.

Unfortunately, in the Canadian settler state, these deaths are not something out of the ordinary. Indeed, Canada even has its own settler colonial phenomenon called Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), a crude tag line that alludes to the thousands (i) of Indigenous women and girls that have been murdered or have 'disappeared' within the last three decades across the country without being of much concern to the state. The colonial contexts that resulted in two Indigenous bodies floating in the Red River on August 17 are also all too familiar. (ii) Hall was one of many Indigenous peoples living precariously on the streets of Winnipeg--in fact, this is a city in which the homeless population is primarily made up of Indigenous peoples (Belanger, Awosoga & Weasel Head 2013, p. 13). (iii) Tina was one of the many Indigenous children under the 'care' of the settler state. As such, she was part of a system through which Indigenous children are not only removed en masse, (iv) but in which they also die at staggering rates. (v) What we can learn from activist initiatives (such as, Sisters in Spirit, No More Silence) and academics alike (Smith 2005; Razack 2002b; Weaver 2009) is that, within the Canadian settler colony, the fact that Tina Fontaine was Indigenous, female, and a child, marked her for sexual violence and death.

Yet, first and foremost, this is not a paper about Tina. This is a paper about the conditions of possibilities and probabilities that structure the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Manitoba's child welfare authorities that marked Tina for regulation, and that ultimately, render her death as nothing out of the ordinary. In this paper I turn to (re)productions of settler colonialism in Canada by examining some of the racial-spatial practices that inform Manitoba's child welfare system and its relation to the Indigenous peoples the province of Manitoba has formed around. This paper builds on socio-historic research and a discourse analysis which I conducted of 169 newspaper articles. (vi) In its initial phase I examined the colonial constructions of Indigenous parents, and more specifically Indigenous mothers, that justify the wholesale removal of Indigenous children by child welfare services (see Landertinger 2015). I now build on this framework by engaging in a spatial analysis. Through a spatial analysis I investigate how, first, the making of race and space are intimately connected in the settler colonial imagination, and, second, how such racial-spatial enactments enable the removal of Indigenous children by child welfare authorities. …

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