Vincent Schilling
Indian Country Today

Nahanni Fontaine, a member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba for St. Johns constituency in the Province of Manitoba, and only the second First Nations woman to have been elected to her position, was asked to leave the legislative chamber for the day on March 10 after using “unparliamentary language’” when speaking about missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two spirit individuals.

During the session, Fontaine, Ojibway from the Sagkeeng Anishinaabe First Nation, was speaking about the recent homicide of a First Nations woman Jana Williams, whose body was tragically discovered near to the Red River. Fontaine had attended a memorial gathering for Williams and during the session, she discussed the lack of support for the family from other Manitoba Legislature members.

When Fontaine began speaking about the memorial and was accused of using the narrative as a political maneuver, Fontaine lashed back.

“I'm not trying to score political points,” Fontaine states on a video that went viral on social media, “I'm simply pointing out that not one single member of the PC caucus has reached out to the family or has even posted on Twitter, which there are so apt to do when it's orange shirt day condolences to the family, it is indicative that they just don't give a crap about Indigenous women and girls.”

After Fontaine’s comments, the leader asked for her to retract the statement three times, to which Fontaine responded, “I will not.”

After her refusal, the House speaker Myrna Driedger ultimately stated, “The honorable member for St. John's, pursuant to our rules for disregarding the authority of the chair and to direct that she withdraw from the chamber for the remainder of this sitting day.”

Nahanni Fontaine’s video post of the incident on Instagram

Fontaine told Indian Country Today that her comments had also been fueled by interactions from the previous day from the Minister of Justice. When Fontaine was discussing Indigenous and marginalized people, “the current Minister of Justice yelled from the other side of the room, ‘Oh, you'd know all about gangs’,” said Fontaine.

“Fast forward to Wednesday ... and I'm asking questions about this young woman, but I'm asking questions about MMIWG2S in totality because we've seen no action from this government to do anything. There are no plans, there are no strategies. We had a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls that filed their final report two years ago, and there still has been no response from this government. So those were my questions,” explained Fontaine.

“The premier was answering it in a very condescending, dismissive bullying manner as usual. The clip that people see is me just getting upset. And because we've seen no action and there are consequences to that, there are consequences to no action in the lives of indigenous women, girls, and two-spirited. And there was heckling going on and I just said that the government doesn't give a crap about Indigenous women and girls in the province.”

“And to be truthful as this was going on, I was actually going to say a different word, a swear word, but I thought, Oh, I'm not going to say that in the house. And so I said, crap.”

Fontaine says the Canadian government has not taken action and due to working closely with the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and two spirit individuals, she would never withdraw.

“We've seen no action from this government. And our women's lives are dependent on the action from the government to take this issue seriously and to acknowledge it for the crisis that it is.”

“There was no way that I would withdraw those comments. I love our women too much to dismiss something that's so serious.”

Fontaine says that she is also blessed to be working with other Indigenous women, including Bernadette Smith, Ojibway, who serves as the MLA for Point Douglas and is an MMIWG2S family member and Amanda Lathlin, Cree, who serves as MLS and is the first Indigenous woman that was elected to the Manitoba Legislative Assembly.

Fontaine says she is not going to let the incident stop her efforts.

“I have a job to do ... we have to hold this government to account.”