Family of Morgan Harris gearing up to put ‘grief into action’ with new Winnipeg street patrol

A new community patrol gearing up to hit the streets of Winnipeg is being led by Indigenous women and family members of one of the victims of a serial killer who’s currently on trial.

The group has filed to reserve the name “Morgan’s Warriors” as a non-profit, and they have been working on a community needs assessment to figure out which gaps they could help fill in the city, Kirstin Witwicki said.

The patrol is being spearheaded by Witwicki and her cousin, Melissa Robinson, who both have experience volunteering with community patrols in Winnipeg.

The group’s name is inspired by their cousin, Morgan Harris, who was one of four women killed by admitted Winnipeg serial killer, Jeremy Skibicki. The name is to “honour our cousin Morgan, and to turn our grief into action,” she said, and their slogan will be “helping is healing.”

“When we started doing community patrols, it was when we were … needing to find connection in our community, because of some things that were going on in our life,” said Witwicki.

“We’ll be taking all the bits and pieces [from] our years of knowledge, patrolling with other patrol group organizations … plus adding some additional things that we’ve uncovered that would be helpful.”

A woman wearing a toque and a cream-coloured coat looks at an image of another woman with the name Morgan Harris on it.
Melissa Robinson looks at a poster of her cousin Morgan Harris in a wigwam at Camp Morgan on Nov. 30, 2023. (Josh Crabb/CBC )

The group wants to serve and honour the memory of not only Harris, but Skibicki’s other victims as well as all missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people, she said.

“In order to do that, we determined that we needed to start something from scratch.”

Their goal is to hit the ground running as soon as possible, she said. The group plans to patrol the streets of Winnipeg in pink vests, handing out food and hygiene kits to people in need, as well as conducting wellness checks and picking up discarded needles.

Witwicki says they can’t work to meet the community’s needs without the help of all people, but the group’s board of directors and any paid positions will be strictly for Indigenous women and gender diverse people, as a reclamation of traditional structures lost through colonization.

“It disproportionately impacted women [and] the role of women in our communities, traditionally, was specifically attacked,” she said. “This is us trying to address that, and trying to recognize that we are just really frustrated by the lack of respect we see towards Indigenous women especially.”

Morgan’s daughters, Cambria, Elle and Kera Harris are supportive of the project, but Witwicki says they’re being mindful not to put too much pressure on them as Skibicki’s murder trial is still underway.

“We want to make sure that we’re not putting all of this work on them while they’re going through this,” she said. “They’re still grieving…. The trial’s going on, so we want to make sure that we carry as much of that burden as we can, but they’re absolutely excited that it’s happening.”

Community advocacy needed

Jeannie Whitebird, who is an artist and traditional helper, said she’s 100 per cent behind every community group that feels a need to come together to support families.

“Community advocacy at any level, at any capacity is exactly what we need right now,” she said. 

The group being led by women is also something that resonates with Whitebird. She said mothers are “life givers and water carriers” and those who identify as women have the solutions and resolve within their makeup to go forward.

A woman paints a mural.
Artist and traditional helper Jeannie Whitebird says community advocacy is needed right now. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

They also could have an incredible opportunity for connection and communication from one person to another, especially those who are impacted by missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people, Whitebird said.

“I feel that a community patrol, it could have the potential to reach families and speak at that personal level,” she said. “And that personal respect of someone coming who doesn’t come from an organization, that just comes from a person who’s there in heart and spirit.”

Meanwhile, Witwicki said when the patrol gets up and running, it will give people an outlet for their energy and grief. 

“I think a lot of grief is just loss of control, and this gives people an opportunity to use their energy again,” she said.

“During the trial part here, it is very empowering to take back some of that control and say, yes, this horrible, terrible thing happened, and unfortunately [all of Canada] just kind of let it happen … by turning a blind eye, or studying a problem to death instead of actually acting on it.”