‘We’re not trash’ Manitoba Indigenous leaders renew calls for landfill search after study proves feasibility
Manitoba’s Indigenous leaders are calling on Winnipeg police and all three levels of government to move forward with a comprehensive search of the Prairie Green landfill to find the bodies of two Indigenous women believed to be deposited there.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) held a media conference Friday in partnership with Long Plain First Nation and the families of Rebecca Contois, Morgan Harris, and Marcedes Myran.
All three women are believed to be the victims of alleged serial killer Jeremy Skibicki. Contois’ remains were found in the Brady Road landfill last year. The remains of Harris and Myran have not yet been found, but police have said their bodies may have been deposited in West St. Paul’s Prairie Green landfill in May 2022.
Skibicki has also been charged with first-degree murder in the death of a fourth, unidentified woman known as Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman. Her remains have also not been found.
In December 2022, the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) said a search of the landfill was not feasible due to the passage of time and the large amount of material deposited there, including animal remains which would be difficult to distinguish from human remains. In response to that claim, an Indigenous-led committee spearheaded by the AMC commissioned a feasibility study to determine the actual work needed to search the site.
“The First Nations community would not stand for those explanations. We knew that position was sending a dark message to First Nation women and girls,” said Cathy Merrick, AMC Grand Chief.
“How do you look at these young girls and say ‘I’m sorry,’ that you won’t even attempt to recover their mothers?” she added.
Merrick said the study had two goals: to determine if the search was feasible, and if so, how to go about doing it. The study found that a search of the Prairie Green landfill was possible, and would take up to three years to complete at a cost of $84 million – $184 million.
“Using the findings from our feasibility study, we’ve proven that a humane search of Prairie Green landfill for Marcedes Myran, Morgan Harris, and Buffalo Woman is feasible,” Merrick said.
She said the victim’s families were very involved in the process, coming to almost every committee meeting over the last five months. “They reviewed our documents and communications, we cannot thank them enough for their commitment to see this process through while grieving,” said Merrick.
Indigenous leaders from across the province attended the conference to show their support.
“When authorities do not communicate in a kind way with victims’ families, or don’t respond in a timely manner, or don’t properly explore options to recover the remains of our relatives, they are effectively saying that First Nations people don’t matter,” said Cindy Woodhouse, Assembly of First Nations (AFN) regional chief for Manitoba.
Woodhouse said the Prairie Green landfill should be treated like a crime scene.
“This is no longer a landfill. It appears more likely to be a crime scene with people in it, according to police information,” she said. “When authorities respond with ‘we can’t’ or ‘it costs too much money’ they are sending a message that Indigenous women are expendable.”
Harris’ cousin Melissa Normand was appalled authorities would ask if the families still wanted the search to take place after reading the report.
“To really ask us if we still wanted to go forward … to think that we’re going to say, ‘oh no, it’s okay, we’re going to leave Morgan there.’ Absolutely not, it’s disgusting,” she said.
Normand said you cannot put a price on human life.
“I read that whole thing, we got it a week ago,” she said. “When I got to the part where it spoke about how much it’s going to cost, I flipped right past it. We’re talking about my cousin, their mom, her sister laying in a landfill.”
The report has been submitted to the federal government for funding approval. Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson said the search will still happen no matter what. ” At the end of the day, no matter what it takes or what it’s going to cost, we are going to do that work. We are going to look for our loved ones and search the landfill. No one is going to tell us otherwise, we are going to do that work with or without you,” said Wilson.
Myran’s sister Jordan said it breaks her heart to not have a grave to bring her niece and nephew to visit on Mother’s Day.
“Our women don’t belong in a landfill, we’re not trash,” she said. “Let’s not fail these women, let’s bring them home.”
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