By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
When Cambria Harris was told that no one was going to search for the remains of her murdered mother, she had no plans to take that news sitting down.
“I was so angry, but it lit a fire in me because I knew I wasn’t going to accept it and the Indigenous community wasn’t going to accept it,” Harris said. “I knew right then and there I had to make my voice heard, and I am not stopping.
“I will never stop.”
Harris believes the pressure that she and others have put on and kept on in the past few weeks is the only reason there is still hope that one day her mother’s remains might be brought home, and properly laid to rest.
“My people and my community have always had to stand up and fight to be heard, and sadly it’s always for the wrong reasons,” she said.
“It shouldn’t have to be the traumatized families and the people who are broken putting their hearts and their souls out there just to fight for what’s right.”
Harris is the daughter of Morgan Harris, one of four women believed to have been killed by Jeremy Skibicki, a man Winnipeg Police (WPS) allege is a serial killer, and who is now behind bars charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of four Indigenous women.
On Dec. 1, WPS announced new charges against Skibicki in the deaths of Harris as well as Marcedes Myran and an unidentified woman being referred to by the community as Buffalo Woman. Skibici was already facing a first-degree murder charge in the death of Rebecca Contois. The women are believed to have been killed between March and May of 2022.
On Dec. 6, WPS chief Danny Smyth told reporters that investigators believe the remains of Harris and Myran, who are both members of the Long Plain First Nation, are in the Prairie Green Landfill near the town of Stony Mountain, but that WPS did not plan to do a search of the landfill, because their forensics unit saw very little hope of a successful recovery.
According to Harris, officers from WPS met with her face to face and told her the news that they had no plans to search the landfill and that is when she said she knew she and others were going to have to take matters into their own hands to get the landfill searched.
“I just said I would never accept that,” Harris said. “We all have the right to a proper burial and no one is going to take that away. We have the right to give my mother a wake, give her a public funeral, and give her the proper ceremony to pass on, rather than letting her sit in the bottom of a landfill.
“That should never be anyone’s final resting place.”
Harris and Indigenous leaders made their voices heard across the country after police said they would not search the landfill, as on Dec. 8, she, along with her sister Kera Harris and several First Nations leaders held a press conference in Ottawa where they publicly called for Smyth to resign as chief of police in Winnipeg.
“It should not have come to that point, not even close,” she said. “I had to go to Ottawa to make a change, and the message was `search for her or step down.”’
And since that press conference, a series of actions have been taken that give Harris and others hope that the Prairie Green Landfill can be searched, as the city and the province have since announced that all operations at the landfill have been suspended indefinitely, and the federal government has said they would fund a feasibility study for a search.
The province also announced last week they would offer funding and resources to help with a search, and WPS say they plan to be involved in search efforts in some capacity.
And while Harris is happy to see governments and police get behind the search, she said she doubts things would have even gotten this far, had she and others not spoken up.
“I don’t think anything would have been done if me and my sister and leadership hadn’t gone to Ottawa, and gotten the media coverage and made this a national story,” Harris said. “That’s the reason things are getting done, and now I have my entire nation behind me.”
She hopes she can one day find closure and hopes that some closure can come for families and friends of missing and murdered women and girls across the country.
“These women were not statistics, they were human beings with a voice, and they were stripped of that voice,” she said.
“They were loved, and they deserve to be remembered, so we are going to make sure that we search for them, and we are going to make sure that no one ever takes their voices away.”
Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Winnipeg Sun. The LJI program is federally funded.