‘Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people are absolutely targeted.… It’s devastating,’ says advocate
CBC News: Almost a fifth of the people who died by homicide in Winnipeg this year were Indigenous women, a CBC analysis has found.
Of the total of 51 homicides recorded in the city as of Dec. 24, at least 10 involved women who were Indigenous, according to interviews with their loved ones and information from the Winnipeg Police Service.
While Indigenous women accounted for nearly 20 per cent of the city’s homicide victims this year, Indigenous people — both male and female — make up just under 14 per cent of Winnipeg’s total population, according to the latest census data.
Charges have been laid in eight of the 10 killings of Indigenous women this year.
That number jumped during a Dec. 1 press conference, when Winnipeg police announced three more first-degree murder charges against Jeremy Skibicki, who was already facing a first-degree murder charge in the May death of Rebecca Contois.
Police identified two more First Nations women he’s believed to have killed — Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran — and said he was also charged in the death of an unidentified woman, since given the name Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman, who is also believed to be Indigenous.
“Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people are absolutely targeted,” said Tammy Wolfe, a member of the Manitoba Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Coalition.
“It’s definitely shocking. It’s devastating to our communities.”
Wolfe says the allegation that four Indigenous women were killed by the same man — three years after the release of the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls — is horrific, but not surprising.
“We’re still having the same problems,” she said in an interview with CBC.
“When is it going to end?”
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This is what we know about the 10 Indigenous women who lost their lives to violence in Winnipeg this year.
Heather Beardy, 26, was a member of Garden Hill First Nation who lived in Winnipeg.
Beardy’s childhood friend, Julia, met her when they were both teens at the Manitoba youth centre. CBC is not using her real name due to privacy and safety concerns. Both Beardy and her brother grew up in and out of jail, said Julia. Their father, Derwin Beardy, has been missing since June 2016.
“Her situation wasn’t her fault,” Julia told CBC, who said her friend was a mother, sister and daughter. Julia said she was one of the few people who went to Beardy’s funeral. “It was really sad, and it reflected on the support she had,” she said.
What she will remember most about Heather Beardy was her friendliness and selfless soul, said Julia. “I just think the world deserves to know that she was an amazing person.”
Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe (Buffalo Woman)
At the Dec. 1 news conference when Winnipeg police announced the new murder charges against Jeremy Skibicki, they asked for help in identifying a woman he’s believed to have killed on or around March 15.
At the time, police said the woman’s body had not been found and they did not know her identity, but did say they believe she was an Indigenous woman in her 20s. They will not say how they determined that. The woman was later given the name Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman, by community members.
At the Dec. 1 news conference, police released a photo of a reversible Baby Phat-brand jacket with a fur hood, which they believe is similar to one worn by Buffalo Woman, hoping it would provide a clue to help identify her.
Anyone with information about Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe’s identity is asked to contact the homicide unit at 204-986-6508 or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-8477 (TIPS).
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Morgan Harris, 39, was a member of Long Plain First Nation who lived in Winnipeg. The mother of five and grandmother was last seen on May 1 in the downtown area, police said. They allege she was killed by Skibicki on or around that date.
“I want her to be remembered as happy-go-lucky as she was,” said Cambria Harris, 21, at a Dec. 1 vigil for her mother. “She was silly, she was fun. People loved to be around her.”
Cambria Harris has been among those leading calls for a search of the Prairie Green landfill, north of Winnipeg, where it’s believed the remains of her mother, and of Marcedes Myran, were taken in mid-May.
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Marcedes Myran, 26, was a mother and a member of Long Plain First Nation who lived in Winnipeg.
Myran’s grandmother, Donna Bartlett, previously told CBC that her granddaughter made contact with family for the last time on March 15. Winnipeg police believe she was killed by Skibicki on or around May 4.
Bartlett says she will miss her granddaughter’s jokes and her big smile the most. “It’s so hard to lose somebody like that. She was a nice girl,” she said.
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Rebecca Contois, 24, was a member of O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation, also known as Crane River, on the western shore of Lake Manitoba. She grew up in Winnipeg and had a daughter.
Her partial remains were discovered in a garbage bin behind a North Kildonan apartment building on May 16. They believe she was killed a day or two earlier. At a May 19 vigil, Contois was remembered as someone who ended up in the wrong crowd, but who “had a heart for everything.”
In late June, her mother, Maureen Contois, spoke at a second vigil for Rebecca, a day after Winnipeg police confirmed that partial remains found at the Brady Road landfill were those of the 24-year-old woman.
“My heart’s broken.… I miss her,” she said. “She was my daughter. She didn’t deserve that.”
Doris Trout, 25, was a member of God’s Lake First Nation and a mother of three children.
She had been missing for more than a month when her body was discovered in a common area of an apartment complex at the corner of Kennedy Street and Sargent Avenue last May.
Leah Clifton was charged with second-degree murder in connection with the deaths of both Trout and Heather Beardy in June. Meagan Leigh Beaulieu, 27, was also arrested in June and charged with second-degree murder in connection with Trout’s death.
At a May 25 vigil, family described Trout as a bubbly, outgoing person with a great sense of humour, who will be greatly missed.
Tessa Perry, 31, was a mother of four children. Her family remembered her as a gentle, caring mom, who was working to make a better life for herself and her kids.
Perry was found critically injured in a Maples-area home on May 28, and later died in hospital. Justin Alfred Robinson, 29, was charged with second-degree murder in connection with her death.
Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, Perry’s aunt and an advocate for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, told CBC at a May 31 vigil that the family was devastated by the young woman’s death.
“Everybody is very heartbroken,” she said.
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Melissa Cook, 41, was a member of Sapotaweyak Cree Nation who had been living in Winnipeg since April, police said. She didn’t have a home in Winnipeg and spent some time at Siloam Mission and encampments around the city.
“My mom was a very beautiful woman. She always had a smile on her face, no matter what,” Cook’s daughter, Naturelle Cook, told CBC in October. Police say Cook is believed to have suffered burn injuries between late June and early July, and died due to her injuries on Aug. 25. No charges have been laid in connection with her death.
Anyone with information is asked to contact homicide unit investigators at 204-986-6508 or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-8477 (TIPS).
Danielle Ballantyne, 36, was originally from Misipawistik First Nation (Grand Rapids) but moved to Winnipeg about a decade ago.
Her killing on Aug. 22 was one of several serious violent attacks that police were called to in the same general area of the city that morning. Ballantyne was a giving person who was very protective of her family, relatives said at an August vigil.
Two 15-year-old boys have been charged with second-degree murder in Ballantyne’s killing.
The teens are also charged with second-degree murder in the death of Marvin William Felix, 54, who was killed the same morning as Ballantyne, and with aggravated assault in connection with an attack that critically injured a man in his 50s that day.
Delany Desmarais, 23, was an Ojibway mother from Duck Bay, Man. Her cousin Sheena Desmarais remembers her as a caring and outgoing person who loved and was loved by all of her family.
On Nov. 12, Winnipeg police found Delany suffering from a gunshot wound in the Centennial neighbourhood. She later died from her injuries in hospital. Delany was visiting Winnipeg when she was killed, Sheena said.
She was an attentive and loving mother who left behind four young children, said Sheena. “They probably won’t remember her now,” she said.
No one has yet been charged in connection with the 23-year-old’s death. “Somebody is still out there walking around — the person who killed her,” said Sheena. “There’s no justice for Delany, so it’s hard in that sense.”
Anyone with information about her death is asked to contact homicide unit investigators at 204-986-6508 or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-8477 (TIPS).