Landfills can’t become graves for murder victims: Indigenous leaders

By Dave Baxter

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

First Nations leaders say there is both the technology and the resources available to make finding the remains of two murdered Indigenous women a possibility and disputed any notion that a search for the remains of those women should not happen because it is not “feasible.”

“We know the technology exists to make it possible,” Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee said in a statement released jointly late Thursday by MKO, The Southern Chiefs Organization (SCO), the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).

According to the organizations, in November the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), which is based in Prague, was engaged with Canadian officials to assist in the response to the discovery of suspected unmarked graves near former residential schools.

They believe the ICMP could be helpful in searching the Prairie Green Landfill for the remains of Marcedes Myran and Morgan Harris, two Indigenous women who are believed to have been victims of an alleged serial killer, and whose bodies police believe are in the landfill located near the town of Stony Mountain, north of Winnipeg.

“We know the ICMP can help locate remains,” Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said.

“ICMP works in countries to help identify people who have gone missing or been killed by providing resources, technology, support, and training to aid in finding missing persons.”

The media release came out on the same day Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson, and several First Nations leaders publicly called for the resignation of Winnipeg police (WPS) Chief Danny Smyth, after WPS said earlier this week they had no plans to search the landfill for the remains of Myran and Harris.

 

Last week WPS announced new charges against alleged serial killer Jeremy Anthony Michael Skibicki in the deaths of Myran and Harris and an unidentified woman being referred to by the community as Buffalo Woman. Skibicki was already facing a first-degree murder charge in the death of Rebecca Contois. The  women are all believed to have been killed between March and May of 2022.

Smyth told reporters on Tuesday that investigators believe the remains of Myran and Harris, who are both members of the Long Plain First Nation, are in the Prairie Green Landfill but said WPS does not plan to do a search of the landfill because they do not believe one is “feasible,” as their forensics unit sees little hope of a successful recovery.

But some renewed hopes for a search came later, as Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson and Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham announced late Thursday that Waste Connections had agreed to pause operations at the landfill, while they look at what the “next

Settee said that if WPS continue to stand by their decision, then he believes the province and the federal government should step in and do what they can to make the searches happen as soon as possible.

“If the Winnipeg police do not devote the time and resources to searching for our missing and murdered women, then the Governments of Canada and Manitoba should immediately provide the resources to allow our First Nations to bring these victims home to their families,” Settee said.

“It needs to happen now, because we refuse to stand idly by while landfills become unmarked graves for our women.”

And according to AMC Grand Chief Kathy Merrick, there is the technology to find the women’s remains, but there are also examples of similar efforts that have succeeded in the past, despite what she said were “even more obstacles.”

According to Merrick there is a recent case at the Green Lane Landfill in Ontario where the remains of a Toronto man were uncovered in January of 2021, after investigators had been searching that landfill for more than seven years.

She said the operation, which ran for 87 months, included “extensive searching that required excavation, multiple police units and search dogs, emergency management, and ongoing coordination to bring justice for this missing individual and his family.”

Merrick believes similar efforts here in Manitoba could help to find the remains of Myran and Harris and return them to their families.

“This outcome is possible for Marcedes Myran and Morgan Harris too,” she said.

The Winnipeg Sun reached out to both the city and the province on Friday to ask what next steps might be taken after the Thursday announcement that operations at the landfill were temporarily suspended, but spokespersons for both said there were no new updates as of Friday afternoon.

 

-Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

 

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