Inside a card decorated in a field of flowers and trees, Thelma Favel – the great-aunt of slain aboriginal teenager Tina Fontaine – received a seething message of hate: "You guys are nothing but a bunch of drunken Indians."
The handwritten, unsigned note, delivered Wednesday to her rural Manitoba home, is an anomaly among the hundreds of letters of support and prayer she has received since Tina's lifeless body was pulled from Winnipeg's Red River in August.
But the note is piercing, going on to allege that 15-year-old Tina was not a nice person, got drunk in back alleys and was following in her dead father's footsteps. Her father was beaten to death in 2011.
"This is not right what they did," Ms. Favel said of the card after relaying its contents over the phone Thursday. "All the hatred seems to go to the First Nations people," she added. "I know the truth. I know Tina and they didn't."
Although the card is an aberration in Ms. Favel's pile of condolences and well wishes, its sentiment is not incongruous with comments and behaviour that Ms. Favel and other indigenous people have encountered in Canada.
Last week, Maclean's magazine branded Manitoba's capital as the nation's most racist city. Winnipeg's mayor and other community leaders responded in an unexpected address.
Flanked by the city's top cop, the provincial treaty commissioner, First Nations chiefs and community leaders, Mayor Brian Bowman, who is Métis, vowed to combat Winnipeg's racism problem. On Thursday, his office launched a website – 1winnipeg.ca – asking Winnipeggers to share ideas on tackling racism.
"Winnipeg has a responsibility right now to turn this ship around and change the way we all relate – aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians alike, from coast to coast to coast," the mayor said last week.
Tina's death reignited calls for a federal inquiry into Canada's murdered and missing aboriginal women. Ms. Favel believes the Maclean's article, which included a chronicle of Tina's life and death, might have spurred the anonymous writer to send the "nasty" card.
"There is a lot of racism. I've personally experienced lots of it," said Ms. Favel, who helped raise Tina. "I wish it would just stop. Like Tina said, 'We're all God's people.'"
Tina's killing remains under investigation. A member of Sagkeeng First Nation, Tina had run away from government care before she was found dead, her body wrapped in a bag.
Ms. Favel spoke with Winnipeg police's victim services about the card's message. She said she was told the note is not a police matter because it doesn't contain a threat. She was advised to hang onto the card and let victim services know if she receives more negative letters.
According to federal government documents obtained by The Canadian Press through access-to-information legislation, Manitoba is one of the worst places for First Nations people to live in Canada.
Internal reports from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada show Manitoba natives are more likely to grow up in poverty, drop out of school, live off social assistance in dilapidated housing and suffer family violence. Their life expectancy is also eight years shorter than that of other Manitobans.
The 10 regional updates spanning 2012 to 2014 lay out the poor living conditions on Manitoba reserves, but offer little concrete action on the part of the government.
A spokeswoman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said he was unavailable to discuss the updates or what the federal government is doing to improve living conditions for Manitoba's reserve aboriginals. Emily Hillstrom sent an e-mailed statement that didn't address the poor living conditions.
"Our government believes that aboriginal peoples should have the same quality of life, the same opportunities and the same choices as all other Canadians," she wrote before outlining legislation the government has passed such as a law that requires reserves to post their financial statements online.
With reports from Kathryn Blaze Carlson and The Canadian Press