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Theodore Fontaine

Theodore Jonas Fontaine

Sunday September 7, 1941 - Monday May 10, 2021
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Obituary

THEODORE FONTAINE
SABE

Proud member and former Chief, Sagkeeng Anicinabe First Nation, Theodore (Ted) was a knowledge keeper, Elder, author, educator and public speaker. Our beloved husband, father, grandfather, uncle, nephew, and cousin was peacefully called home on Monday, May 10, 2021 by the spirits of his great-grandfather Niizhota, family members and ancestors.

His spirit forever lives on in the hearts of his family: sister Shirley Mills; wife Morgan, daughter and son-in-law Jacqueline and Ron Schram, grandsons Hudson and Sage Schram; beloved cousins, nieces, nephews, and families and friends at Sagkeeng and throughout Manitoba and Canada with whom his kinship bonds were so strong and meaningful.

His Ojibwe spirit name, Sabe, the spirit animal Sasquatch, represents honesty, and is the touchstone of the teachings by which he lived every day.

All our relations will remember Theodore as a residential school victor, a determined and strong First Nations leader, and a truly good man who gave his whole niizhota (double heart) to his lifelong work, love for family and community, and traditional spirituality guided by sacred teachings. He was a fearless advocate of First Nations rights, languages, culture, spirituality, and traditions.

Theodore was born in September 1941 and describes his early years as “bliss”, safe in the loving arms of family, in comfort and safety, with freedom, his vibrant Ojibwe language, and the guidance of traditional teachings from his kookum and mishoom. He was an innocent, fun-loving child, who loved being outside along the Winnipeg River and, in the bush,, learning the natural ways of the earth and animals.

He was incarcerated at the Fort Alexander and Assiniboia Indian Residential Schools from 1948 to 1960. His first-hand testimony of these experiences was published in his national best-selling book, Broken Circle, The Dark Legacy of Indian Residential Schools, A Memoir. Here he unfolded the psychological, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse he suffered and his journey over decades toward healing and recovery. Over the past 10 years, he presented this true history to more than 1500 audiences in Canada and the United States as well as countless classes of students in schools from kindergarten to post-graduate levels.

It was a joyful experience for him to share his language, teachings, cultural beliefs, and traditions with children in elementary schools. Teachers and principals have described his impact on students and staff as “immeasurable”. He taught the power of knowing, the impact of actions, the need for empathy, the strength of belonging, and the importance of family. His strength, resilience and courage have changed the lives of far more people than we will ever know. His teachings will live on in the relationships he developed and treasured, from fleeting contacts to lifelong friends across time and continents and generations.

Some of his favourite stories are about these children. One day walking in a shopping mall, he heard a voice calling, “Aniin Theodore! Aniin Theodore!” Running toward him was a young student from one of his classes, calling to him in Ojibwe, his parents rushing behind him. Children in classes across many schools learned the importance of respect, by greeting him in his own language. He taught them what it means to say “Aniin neechi augun!”, Hello my partners. He was overwhelmed when children years later would remember him and the words he taught them. He was overcome with emotion when entering a school assembly to a resounding greeting in Ojibwe. The youngest of children usually asked him the most profound questions, questions from the heart.

He reflected on that when writing the Foreword to the classroom resource, Stolen Lives, published by Facing History and Ourselves, a resource developed with his guidance and review. Responding to student questions, he wrote, “Will I ever be happy? Perhaps not in the sense that the young students meant it, but each day as I take another step toward reconciliation, I take a step toward finding my way back to the joyous, effervescent, mischievous Ojibwe child that the Creator intended me to be.”

In the Foreword to Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North America, published by Duke University Press, he wrote, “Why can’t Aboriginal people just get over Indian residential schools? Why can’t they just get on with their lives? These are two of the most common questions asked by Canada’s non-Aboriginal peoples when confronted with the consequences of Indian residential schools as experienced through seven generations of Indigenous Nations in Canada and the United States.” Theodore always answered these questions in a sincere and thoughtful manner that opened the minds and answered the hearts of all those asking. From a local book club to an international conference, his talks were warm and generous in spirit, affirming and uplifting, heartfelt, and true.

His most recent writing is published in, Did You See Us? Reunion, Remembrance, and Reclamation at an Urban Indian Residential School. This book is one component of a project by survivors of the Assiniboia Residential School to recognize and reclaim the space and legacy of this urban experiment of assimilation and honour the students whose lives were forever changed by their time in this Winnipeg school.

After leaving residential schools, Theodore played senior hockey across Western Canada, led a mineral exploration crew in the North West Territories, and graduated in Civil Engineering from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in 1973. He worked extensively in the corporate, government and First Nations sectors, including eleven years with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs as executive director, lead on Indian residential schools, and negotiator of national employment equity claims.

He served in leadership and voluntary roles with organizations such as The Forks Development Corporation, The Banff Centre for Management, Peace Hills Trust, the Indigenous Leadership Development Institute, the Manitoba Museum, the Victorian Order of Nurses, and Palliative Manitoba where he served as an end-of-life volunteer.

Theodore was invited and honored to welcome new Canadians and families at Canadian Citizenship ceremonies. He shared his residential school experiences by invitation from the Canadian Museum of Human Rights and The United States Memorial Holocaust Museum. He participated with a treasured friend, Holocaust survivor Nate Leipciger, in public dialogue events on the themes of the commonality of experience and the power of storytelling. Theodore dedicated his retirement years to writing and teaching, learning and laughing, speaking his language, and loving his family and international community of friends.

Due to current public health orders, a private funeral mass will be held in Winnipeg May 19, video-recorded (not live-streamed), and available online at richardrosin.ca on May 22. Sagkeeng Chief Henderson has planned the lighting of a fire by our nephew Kirk Guimond to honour him that day.

In lieu of flowers, you are invited to support Palliative Manitoba. Our family will establish the Theodore Fontaine Memorial Fund for Indigenous Youth to carry on his good works, and celebration of life ceremonies will be held in both Sagkeeng and Winnipeg when restrictions are lifted.

Gichi miigwetch for all the love and respect always given him. We are grateful for your prayers for Theodore and our family.

“Love lift us up where we belong.”
Buffy Sainte-Marie (Up Where We Belong)
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Service Details

A private service will be held on Wednesday, May 19th and will be video recorded (not live streamed) and available to view on Saturday, May 22nd.

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Sherri Black

Posted at 07:22pm
Theodore changed my heart, my life and the ways in which I walk the path of this life. With deepest gratitude and a humble heart, Chi-miigwetch

3 trees were planted in the memory of Theodore Fontaine

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Liz Gray

Posted at 04:42pm
It makes me very sad to know that I will no longer be able to visit with my friend and teacher- Ted Fontaine- Theodore.

I first met Ted many years back, when he and Morgan were visiting at Sagkeeng Anicinabe High School (SAHS)

Ted came into the classroom, introduced himself, spent time both speaking to and really listening to the youth, engaging with them.

The love Ted had for Sagkeeng and the respect he showed to the youth, was evident from that initial classroom visit.

For many years Ted built relationships with students at SAHS. They always looked forward to his visits, especially to discuss the memoir Broken Circle and to discover more about their family’s genealogy. So much learning occurred whenever Ted came into the classroom.

As an educator, Ted instilled confidence to pursue locally developed curriculum and teach truth - debwewin. His encouragement to continue on that path is something I will always be very grateful for. Miigwetch for your support Ted.

There are many people who were honored to have known Theodore Fontaine. I feel so privileged to be among them.

Sincere condolences to Ted’s family and friends.

With sympathy from Liz Gray.



HS

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Posted at 11:04am
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Suzanne Carrière

Posted at 09:57am
I first encountered Theodore Fontaine when I read Broken Circle. What an act of courage to put out such a painful story for all to read and learn from - it should be essential reading for all Canadians. I then met him and Morgan in my role as a citizenship judge. We participated in many citizenship ceremonies together, and he welcomed new Canadians with such warmth and generosity of spirit. What struck me most was how he'd always bring a few students from the schools he worked in to expose them to new experiences. He'd introduce them to others and would mention them when he spoke during the ceremonies. Essentially, he was showing those students that they were important, worthy, and they mattered, made all the more poignant given he was not granted the same courtesy, or basic act of human decency, by those who worked in the schools he attended. I will miss Ted's smile, the twinkle in his eye when he spoke, and his two-handed handshakes that convey all the warmth and love of an enthusiastic bear hug! Chi miigwetch for all you have done Ted, and journey well. To Morgan and all of Ted's loved ones - my sincere condolences to you. I can only hope that the unbearable pain of losing Ted is lessened by the many cherished memories you all have of your time shared with him over the years.

David Warburton

Posted at 02:48pm
On behalf of Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet, our sympathies go to the family, friends, and community of Theodore (Ted) Fontaine. As we created Going Home Star, Ted was integral in educating our dancers and staff about his personal experience as a residential school survivor; he joined us for rehearsals and was influential in helping our dancers tell the story.

Ted's voice and story will never be forgotten at the RWB. He inspired us and many of his lessons and teachings continue on in the work we are doing to build pathways towards reconciliation through artistic collaboration.
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