More women contact RCMP with allegations of abuse by retired Manitoba residential school priest

Warning: This story contains distressing details.

At least two more women have come forward with allegations of abuse at the hands of a retired priest at Fort Alexander residential school in Manitoba.

Maureen Fontaine, 67, is one of them.

“I was a young age, and I had to go to the washroom. So the priest took me down … in the basement, and there was no washroom there.… He did things to me that a little child shouldn’t have gone through,” she said.

“I don’t know how long it lasted because, like, I went out of my body,” said Fontaine, a member of Sagkeeng First Nation in eastern Manitoba, where the Fort Alexander school was located. The abuse was so traumatizing she has flashbacks, she said.

“I still get nightmares, and I get anxiety.”

Last week, following a decade-long investigation, RCMP charged Father Arthur Masse, 92, with indecent assault in connection with the sexual assault of a 10-year-old girl at the school more than 50 years ago. Fort Alexander closed in 1970.

Fontaine said when she heard the news, she felt it was time to finally publicly share her own experiences, which she had only told a therapist before.

She contacted Powerview RCMP on Monday. Officers took her name and told her she’ll be contacted by the lead investigator in Winnipeg, she said.

Maureen Fontaine has been working with a therapist to deal with the aftereffects of alleged residential school abuse but has never told her story publicly before. (Travis Golby/CBC)

One other woman from Sagkeeng told CBC News she has also filed a compliant.

“I can confirm there have been further reports made to police since the news of the arrest,” said Tara Seel, a media relations officer with the Manitoba RCMP.

She wouldn’t provide numbers but said officers will look into every report they receive.

That needs to be done soon, says a member of the Manitoba Legislature who is also from Sagkeeng.

“There’s a sense of urgency … to follow up, to pursue justice on behalf of residential school survivors before those individuals, before those perpetrators, those abusers die,” said NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine, who has family members who attended the school.

“We know that there are perpetrators of really grotesque, savage violence on the bodies of children as young as four or five who are still alive today.”

They “walk around with impunity … [and] have never had any semblance of punishment or consequence for their behaviours,” she said.

Manitoba NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine is from Sagkeeng First Nation. Several of her family members attended the Fort Alexander residential school. She says a charge of indecent assault laid against Masse shows it is never too late to speak up and seek justice for residential school abuses. (CBC)

The MLA said while only one charge has been laid so far, it’s a step on a path toward healing for survivors who felt they have not been heard or believed until now.

She anticipates more people will come forward.

‘How much of my life he took’

Maureen Fontaine said she learned a lot about the history and legacy of residential schools in 1992, when she did an essay while studying business administration at what is now Red River College Polytechnic.

“I finally understood what my dad had gone through and why it was coming out in that form,” she said, adding he was also a student at the Fort Alexander school.

“He was badly abused. Very much so. And he did not speak about things that happened to him.”

Fontaine plans to be in court in Powerview on July 20, when Masse, who was released with conditions last week, makes his first appearance on the charge already laid.

She said if she gets a chance to speak to him, she knows what she’ll tell him:

“How much of my life he took, because he did take my life as a little child.”

| More women allege abuse by retired priest Arthur Masse:

More women allege abuse by former Manitoba residential school priest

Maureen Fontaine is among those who have contacted RCMP in Manitoba after hearing news of a charge of indecent assault against Arthur Masse, a former priest who worked at the Fort Alexander residential school in Sagkeeng First Nation.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and those who are triggered by these reports. 

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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