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‘Their lives mattered’: Indigenous leaders say landfill search a must after study’s release

Click to play video: '‘Their lives mattered’: Indigenous leaders say landfill search a must after study’s release'
‘Their lives mattered’: Indigenous leaders say landfill search a must after study’s release
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says there’s no reason why the Prairie Green Landfill shouldn’t be searched for the bodies of two Indigenous women — but the question remains whether government and police have the willpower to do it. Rosanna Hempel reports. – May 12, 2023

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says there’s no reason why the Prairie Green Landfill shouldn’t be searched for the bodies of two Indigenous women — but the question remains whether government and police have the willpower to do it.

A study examining the feasibility of a search for the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran — commissioned by an Indigenous-led committee spearheaded by AMC — says a search could take up to three years and cost $184 million.

At a news conference Friday, AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said the the goal is to bring closure to the victims’ families, many of whom were in attendance.

“You cannot put a price on the lives of First Nations women, or the horrific and profound loss their families have experienced,” she said.

“How do you look at these young girls in their eyes and tell them you’re sorry… but you won’t even attempt to recover their mothers, who fell victim to a serial killer?”

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Winnipeg man Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Harris and Myran, as well as two others — Rebecca Contois, whose remains were found at the Brady Landfill, and an unidentified woman Indigenous leaders have named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.

The study, The Canadian Press reported Friday, concluded that a canvass of the Prairie Green Landfill is feasible, although there are “considerable risks” of exposure to chemicals and asbestos for their searchers.

Despite that, the study said, nixing a search could end up being more harmful to the victims’ families.

“The impact of not conducting a search and humanitarian recovery for remains of Morgan and Marcedes, when it is possible that they are in the Prairie Green Landfill, could have long-lasting repercussions on the families, friends, loved ones and First Nations and Indigenous communities in Manitoba and across Canada.”

Click to play video: 'Feasibility study complete into search of Winnipeg landfill for women’s remains'
Feasibility study complete into search of Winnipeg landfill for women’s remains

Failing to act, Merrick said, would be tantamount to telling the world the women’s lives weren’t important.

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“These women are mothers, sisters, cousins and aunties. They were here, and their lives mattered,” she said.

“These women have been denied the opportunity to live out the rest of their days, and as a result, we have all been robbed of the gifts they can no longer share with the world.”

The report says governments should consider the potential societal costs of conducting a search, including the emotional impact on families.

The federal government, which provided $500,000 to the AMC for the study, seems on-board with the proposal.

Speaking at an event in Labrador Friday, Crown-Indigenous relations minister Marc Miller said he agrees that the search must happen, and that Ottawa will work with other levels of government to search the landfill.

Click to play video: 'Landfill search to recover remains of 3  women is ‘feasible’: Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs announce findings of landfill search study'
Landfill search to recover remains of 3 women is ‘feasible’: Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs announce findings of landfill search study

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, also speaking from Labrador, said his government will do whatever it can to help the families and pledged Ottawa’s support — without getting into specifics.

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In order for a search to go ahead, Prairie Green would first need to submit a proposal to a regulatory body in order to have the excavation and transportation of material okayed.

Cambria Harris, who has been actively campaigning to encourage politicians — at all levels — to take the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls more seriously — said Friday that committing to a search for the remains of her mother and Myran should have been a clear decision from the get-go.

“This feasibility study is 55 pages long — as it should be — but no amount of words on paper can give you enough reasons as to why you should search for a woman… because it should have been done on the first page.”

With files from The Canadian Press

Click to play video: 'Indigenous leaders, family discuss effort to search Manitoba landfill for women’s remains'
Indigenous leaders, family discuss effort to search Manitoba landfill for women’s remains

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