Ottawa, province commit $40M to fund Manitoba landfill search work

The provincial and federal governments are committing $20 million apiece to search a landfill near Winnipeg for the remains of two First Nations women.

Premier Wab Kinew, Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), federal representatives from Ottawa, and Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham met with the families of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran Friday afternoon.

It is believed the bodies of the two women are buried in the Prairie Green landfill, north of Winnipeg.

Morgan Harris’ daughter Cambria spoke with members of the media following the meeting.

“I am very grateful for these commitments going forward, and I hope we can continue to provide transparency to members of the public, community members, as well as the families,” Harris said. “And I pray one day, we will see justice.”

The families had previously accused the provincial government of delays and inaction since it promised during last fall’s election campaign that there would be a search of the landfill.

Premier Wab Kinew has said he is committed to getting the landfill searched but, as of earlier this month, could not answer questions about timelines, operation details and funding.

An Indigenous-led committee commissioned two reports on the feasibility of a search, which has been estimated to cost $90 million if completed within a year.

“Even that is historic that we were asked to produce a document to search the landfill for our loved ones,” Merrick said. “There has been other searches of landfills for other people. They were never asked to produce a feasibility study to see how worthwhile or how costly it would be to search the landfills.”

Jeremy Skibicki is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Harris, Myran and two other women; Rebecca Contois, whose partial remains were found in a different landfill, and an unidentified woman Indigenous leaders have named Buffalo Woman, whose remains have not been found.

The charges against Skibicki have not been proven in court. He is slated to go to trial in April.

The province also committed $500,000 to support the families during Skibicki’s trial. The federal governments are also spending $250,000 for the families.

“Today’s a very bittersweet day,” Grand Chief Merrick said. “It’s a sense of relief, but yet, work needs to be done.”

Cambria said the announcement gives her some hope.

“It’s about showing that our Indigenous women, our Indigenous people that we’re worth it, we’re valued, we’re loved and we are more than worth searching for,” she said. “It’s about sending that message that, like as the premier said, it’s the principle of trying. And that’s the least we can do, is to show that we’re going to be there.” 

– With files from the Canadian Press

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