Grief in Long Plain First Nation after 2 women from Manitoba community identified as homicide victims

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

A grieving First Nation in south central Manitoba is offering support to help those affected by the deaths of two of its own members, who police believe were killed by the same man.

Morgan Beatrice Harris, 39, and Marcedes Myran, 26, were both originally from Long Plain First Nation.

But they were living in Winnipeg when they were allegedly murdered by Jeremy Skibicki in early May, police said Thursday.

“There’s a lot of sadness and grief in our community right now,” said Kyra Wilson, chief of Long Plain First Nation, about 95 kilometres west of Winnipeg.

“When we do suffer a loss in our community, we all feel it, and it’s just a really sad time for many people.”

Police said Thursday they had charged Skibicki — who already faced a first-degree murder charge in the May death of another First Nations woman, 24-year-old Rebecca Contois — in connection with the deaths of the two Long Plain women.

They also allege he killed another woman in March, who has not yet been identified.

Framed photos of two women sit on a long table covered by a red plastic cloth, with six unlit candles sitting between them.
Long Plain First Nation is honouring Morgan Harris, shown in the photo on the left, and Marcedes Ryan, shown in the photo on the right. (Radio-Canada)

Wilson says the past couple of days have been extremely difficult.

“[We’re] just trying to help support families, whether that is community members on reserve, or whether that is community members off reserve,” she said.

Inside Long Plain’s spirit lodge, a sacred fire is burning in honour of the slain women. The lodge itself is serving as a “safe space, a comforting space,” Wilson said.

There are also tobacco ties being made to offer prayers to the sacred fire.

Myran was last seen in Winnipeg’s North End. Her family last had contact with her in March, her grandmother said.

Harris, a mother of five and a grandmother, was last seen at the beginning of May.

Their bodies have not yet been found.

Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth said earlier this week he believes the remains of Myran and Harris are at city’s Brady Road landfill, where Contois’s partial remains were found after a search in June, but says investigators will not search the landfill again.

The remains of the other woman who hasn’t yet been identified are also believed to be there.

Myran’s grandmother, Donna Bartlett, told CBC on Saturday that the family began searching for her in March, and in September, they stepped up their search and contacted police to report her missing.

She said she’d tried a number of times to reach leadership in Long Plain for help in getting the word out and getting money to put up posters, but didn’t get a response.

“As far as I’m concerned … you didn’t help me,” said Bartlett. “They said they were going to put out a reward … but no, nothing.”

‘Layers of trauma’ for Indigenous people

Like many in Long Plain, Linda Myran was initially shocked when she heard this week’s news.

As a community health worker on Long Plain, Myran —  who is not closely related to Marcedes — says it’s something that has happened far too often over the years.

“Indigenous people have layers and layers of trauma, and often I tell people that we can’t erase the trauma, but we can look at it in a different way in order to move forward to positivity,” she said.

“But it doesn’t take away the hurt every time we hear it, each time we know of it.”

A woman with grey hair, wearing glasses and a green scarf, looks at someone off-camera.
Linda Myran is a community mental health worker at Long Plain First Nation. ‘Often I tell people that we can’t erase the trauma, but we can look at it in a different way in order to move forward,’ she said. ‘But it doesn’t take away the hurt.’ (Radio-Canada)

Wilson echoed those words.

“We’re always having to come together at vigils for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and two-spirit, as well as our men,” she said. 

“It’s unfortunate that we have to come together during times of loss, whereas it should be coming together as a time of celebration for each other.”

Wilson also wants members of her community to know that even if they move away, they still have support back home.

“If things don’t work out in the bigger, urban settings they can come back home,” she said. “There’s always going to be a safe space for them.”

Support is available for anyone affected by details of this case. If you require support, you can contact Ka Ni Kanichihk’s Medicine Bear Counselling, Support and Elder Services at 204-594-6500, ext. 102 or 104, (within Winnipeg) or 1-888-953-5264 (outside Winnipeg).

Support is also available via Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Liaison unit at 1-800-442-0488 or 204-677-1648.