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THEODORE FONTAINE (SABE) (TED)
Date of Passing: May 10, 2021Send Flowers to the Family Offer Condolences or Memory
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 11 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 honoured 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)
Expressions of condolence may be made at richardrosin.ca
Funeral Director Ltd.
As published in Winnipeg Free Press on May 15, 2021
Condolences & Memories (11 entries)
He was very nice. - Posted by: Rosetta (Came to see me at school ) on: Jun 11, 2021
My deepest condolences to you, Morgan. Through half a lifetime together, you and Ted so greatly enriched each other's lives. May his memory be a blessing that brings you peace as his goodness carries on through the many people he touched so deeply. - Posted by: Melanie (friend) on: May 23, 2021
Dear Morgan and Family, I had the opportunity to work with Theodore and Morgan at many high schools where they would come and speak. During one of the debrief sessions one student said "Wow, they really love each other". The love you share was witnessed by anyone watching. I will miss you dearly Theodore. Until we met again - Posted by: Kathryn Licandro (Friend) on: May 21, 2021
Sincere condolences to you in the passing of your husband. I enjoyed listening to his stories at family gatherings in Winnipeg. May he rest in peace. - Posted by: Agatha Massey (friend of the family) on: May 18, 2021
Morgan we were very sorry to learn of Ted's passing and want you to know that you are in our thoughts every day as you cope with your loss. We know that you and Ted touched many others' lives and hope that all the many responses to his passing which you are getting will help you to celebrate his life. Ted set a very good example for others to follow. Love and hugs from Bob and Lynda - Posted by: Bob and Lynda Sizeland (Cousin of Morgan) on: May 18, 2021
My heart is with you Morgan. I’m so sorry hear of Ted’s passing. I will certainly miss hearing his stories and our chats. Rest In Peace my friend - Posted by: Liz Funk (Friend ) on: May 16, 2021
Deepest condolences to the family, it was a great honor to know Ted. R.I.P. Ted - Posted by: theodore paupanekis (friend ) on: May 16, 2021
I express my condolences to Ted's immediate, and honored families. My dad (Harry Fontaine) went to the Residential Schools too, and he had kept his experiences in, only to be able to let his feelings out with friends he drank alcohol with, (eg. Tony Bruyere) and they were able to talk and laugh about them, even though these memories were a horror. I am so sorry for those who were practically kidnapped and lost their families. Rest in Peace, Ted. You were courageous to keep repeating your and our stories. May they forever be remembered. - Posted by: Marie Fontaine (Former Sagkeeng Student) on: May 16, 2021
So terribly sorry to hear Ted passed away. He was a good friend and was always glad to see me. We shared a lot of laughs every time I saw him. He indeed had a childlike sense of humor. I will miss him. My sincere condolences to his wife and family. May his spirit sustain you during this difficult time. God bless. - Posted by: George Munroe (Friend) on: May 15, 2021
We are very fortunate to have met Teddy and Morgan, about 20 years ago .. we have enjoyed the chats and friendly encounters. We have always looked forward to the visits more then the patronage. Since we relocated out to Henderson, Teddy and Morgan made the trip to come out and see us .. But Teddy found the bakery and always made his stop before popping in to brag about his purchase. We will miss you profoundly. Our condolences to Morgan and family ..sincerely Tammy and Gary “shoe Guy “ - Posted by: Tammy & Gary Kozussek “shoe guy “ (Friends ) on: May 15, 2021
In Loving memory of our cousin Teddy. We love and cherish your memories. My sister Alice, Maggie, Marlene, and Helen talk fondly of you especially when you were young, especially your pal and cousin Alice. She would talk so highly of you. You are going to be missed from our Fontaine Family. You are in our memories for ever Teddy Love cousin Anne and Bob Xoxoxo 🌸🌸❤️❤️❤️❤️🌸🌸 - Posted by: Anne Armstrong and Bob Armstrong (Cousin) on: May 15, 2021
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