‘I speak with urgency and expect action from the governments’: AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick
WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
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CBC News: First Nations leaders say the year-long wait for a search of a Winnipeg-area landfill for the remains of two women is “inhumane” to their families, and further delays are unacceptable.
Now, they say it’s time for government to put up the funds to get a search started.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said Thursday her organization — working with input from technical experts, the families of the two women and others — shared a new feasibility report with all levels of government this week on a potential search for the remains of Marcedes Myran, 26, and Morgan Harris, 39.
They’re two of four Indigenous women investigators allege were killed by the same man. Police think the remains of Myran and Harris were taken to Prairie Green, a privately owned landfill north of Winnipeg, in May 2022.
Donna Bartlett, Myran’s grandmother, said families “shouldn’t be begging” governments to search the landfill. “I am still here fighting to get the landfill search done,” Bartlett said during a Thursday news conference hosted by AMC in Winnipeg. “This is our women. There’s no reason for them to be in that landfill…. If we weren’t First Nations people, I am pretty damn sure they’d be looking real quick.”
WATCH | ‘We shouldn’t be begging’ for search, grandmother says:
‘We shouldn’t be begging,’ family says as calls for landfill search continue
18 hours ago – Duration 1:09
Donna Bartlett, grandmother of Marcedes Myran, says racism is to blame for a lack of action by three levels of government on a landfill search for the remains of Myran and Morgan Harris, two Manitoba First Nations women believed to be victims of a serial killer.
Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Myran, Harris, and a fourth woman who has not been identified, but whom community members have named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.
When announcing those charges in December 2022, Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth said investigators had decided against searching Prairie Green, saying a search wasn’t feasible.
Skibicki had earlier been charged in connection with the death of Rebecca Contois, whose partial remains were found in 2022 at Brady Road landfill in south Winnipeg. He’s pleaded not guilty on all four first-degree murder charges and is scheduled to go to trial in April.
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- A timeline of what we know about 4 slain Winnipeg women and alleged serial killer Jeremy Skibicki
The decision against searching Prairie Green was disputed by loved ones of the victims, First Nations leaders, politicians and others. In the months that followed, a feasibility study was ordered to look into what a search would entail.
The original report released last year said a search could be done, with certain safety measures in place.
Merrick said the new report builds on that. It was sent on Wednesday to Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew and Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham.
WATCH | ‘Our women do not belong in landfills,’ says grand chief:
‘Our women do not belong in landfills,’ Manitoba grand chief says
17 hours ago – Duration 1:45
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick urges people to remember how the families of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran feel whenever talking about a potential search of a Manitoba landfill for their remains.
AMC said it won’t be releasing the full report publicly. The report identifies two paths forward on a search, said Merrick, including one on an expedited timeline.
She urged the federal and provincial governments to commit to a firm timeline, with a start date this year, after they have reviewed the report. “No more delays, no more vague promises,” said Merrick. “I speak with urgency and expect action from the governments.”
Search ‘could be completed quite quickly’
Kris Dueck, an adviser with Rocky Mountain Forensic Consulting on the report, said its seven subsections include details on equipment and land acquisition needed to build a plant where landfill materials would be reviewed.
The land would need to be big enough to accommodate a 50,000-square-foot building along with yard space for vehicles, said Dueck.
Other sections of the report touch on human resources and staffing requirements, excavation and remediation efforts, trucking and processing materials to the sorting plant, forensics, and health and safety considerations, he said, speaking via video at the news conference.
Dueck said the federal government asked the group to address risk mitigation and personal protective gear needed for a search effort. That information is also in the report, he said.
Sean Sparling with ISN (Investigative Solutions Network) Maskwa — the group hired as technical experts for the report — said the effort could be done safely and would require hiring 30 to 40 people, with about a dozen on shift at any given time.
He estimated it would take six months to staff a search, build the facility and get started. The previous feasibility report timeline of one to three years for a search was based on how much material searchers could move per day, said Sparling.
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- How do you safely search a landfill? And other questions about possible search for remains of 2 women
“It could be completed quite a bit quicker than what was previously reported,” he said, adding they already have a good sense of what section of the landfill to focus on.
Melissa Robinson, Morgan Harris’s cousin, said she believes a search will start this summer — but she called on Winnipeg’s mayor to help ensure that.
WATCH | Calls for Winnipeg mayor to act on landfill search:
Calls for Winnipeg mayor to act on landfill search
18 hours ago – Duration 1:24
Melissa Robinson, the cousin of Morgan Harris — one of two women whose remains are believed to be in a Manitoba landfill — called on Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham to provide land to use for sifting through garbage in a potential search for the remains.
She said in a meeting six months ago, Gillingham committed to set aside land where a structure could be built to sort through material and run other operations during a search. “Six months later we still have yet to hear from him,” said Robinson. “We’re always talking about reconciliation.… [Gillingham] talks a good game. He needs to produce some land now.”
A spokesperson with the mayor’s office said that after that meeting, Gillingham asked the city’s public service to explore whether there are any city lands in the area of Prairie Green — which is located just outside city limits — that could be used for a facility.
“Further discussions are pending an agreement between the senior levels of government and AMC on a search plan. This information was shared with AMC in September,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
The 2023 feasibility study estimated the search would cost $84 million to $184 million.
Merrick declined to share any updated cost estimates from the new report but suggested “it’s not the high end” that was previously reported. “How do you put a dollar amount on that?” said Robinson. “That should not matter.”
‘Lay our relatives to rest’
Manitoba’s previous Progressive Conservative government refused to move forward with a search, citing safety concerns and hazards identified in that study that crews might face. The NDP, elected last October, has committed to searching the landfill.
A spokesperson for Families Minister Nahanni Fontaine said the NDP government has received the AMC report and will be reviewing it. “The next step will be to work with the families on a strong path forward that delivers on our commitment” to a search, the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
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The federal government put up $740,000 last year for the latest report.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree thanked Long Plain First Nation and the AMC for their work in a Thursday statement, promising to work with them, the affected families, Manitoba and other partners “to bring healing and closure.”
The federal government is now reviewing the report, Anandasangaree wrote. “We expect to meet in the near future,” he said in the statement.
Grand Chief Garrison Settee of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents northern Manitoba First Nations, said Thursday he hopes that once funding starts to move that there will be “no interference” in the work. “This is the most tragic way of trying to find our families in a landfill, and it’s so inhumane what has been done to them,” he said. “Let the work be commenced as soon as possible so that we can begin to lay our relatives to rest.”
WATCH | Full news conference announcing completion of new landfill search report:
New details on possibility of Manitoba landfill search to be released
18 hours ago: Duration 55:31
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is expected to release information from a new report on the possibility of searching a Winnipeg-area landfill for the remains of two First Nations women.
Support is available for anyone affected by details of this case. If you require support, you can contact Ka Ni Kanichihk’s Medicine Bear Counselling, Support and Elder Services at 204-594-6500, ext. 102 or 104 (within Winnipeg), or 1-888-953-5264 (outside Winnipeg).
Support is also available via Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Liaison unit at 1-800-442-0488 or 204-677-1648.
People outside Manitoba can call 1-844-413-6649, an independent, national, toll-free support call line that provides emotional assistance.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bryce Hoye, Journalist
Bryce Hoye is a multi-platform journalist covering news, science, justice, health, 2SLGBTQ issues and other community stories. He has a background in wildlife biology and occasionally works for CBC’s Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He is also Prairie rep for outCBC. He has won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award for a 2017 feature on the history of the fur trade, and a 2023 Prairie region award for an audio documentary about a Chinese-Canadian father passing down his love for hockey to the next generation of Asian Canadians.