Police Won’t Search For Murdered Indigenous Women’s Remains

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The remains of three out of four indigenous women believed to have been victims of an alleged serial killer in Canada are still missing ― and despite the community’s repeated calls for authorities to search a local landfill, police have refused to do so.

Police in Winnipeg ― the capital city of the Canadian province of Manitoba ― arrested 35-year-old Jeremy Skibicki on May 18 in connection with the murder of 24-year-old Rebecca Contois, who was a member of the O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi (Crane River) First Nation. Contois’ partial remains were found in a garbage bin at Winnipeg’s Brady landfill, according to authorities.

On Dec. 1, police also charged Skibicki with first-degree murder in the deaths of three more indigenous women between March and May. Morgan Harris, 39, and Marcedes Myran, 26, were both Winnipeg residents who belonged to the Long Plain First Nation. Police have not yet identified the fourth woman, but members of the indigenous community have given her the ceremonial name of Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe ― or “Buffalo Woman” ― to honor her spirit.

Photos of Morgan Harris are shown as family and friends of three murdered women gather at a vigil in Manitoba, Winnipeg, on Dec. 1, 2022. It was announced that Jeremy Skibicki faces three more charges of first-degree murder.

John Woods/The Canadian Press via Associated Press

On Tuesday, Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth said at a press conference that he believes the remains belonging to Harris and Myran were at a different landfill, at the Prairie Green landfill, north of the city, but that police would not search the site due to what he said are potential chemical hazards, ground conditions and months of waste buildup.

Harris’ daughters, 18-year-old Kera and 21-year-old Cambria Harris, blasted police on Tuesday for refusing to search the landfill despite knowing the women’s remains are likely located there. The two said that police gave them a PowerPoint presentation explaining why they would not look for their mother who went missing in May, according to Canadian public broadcaster CBC.

“I do not agree with how this is being handled,” Kera Harris said at a news conference aired by CBC. “How can you even fathom the idea to leave them there? These women are deserving of a proper resting place, not to be left alone in a landfill in the dead of winter.”

“If you can’t find them, then why haven’t you asked for help?” she continued. “Why can’t you ask for help nationwide rather than just having a small amount of people conduct the searches?”

The sisters traveled last week to Canada’s capital city of Ottawa to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and demand that officials search for Harris’ and Myran’s remains at the landfill, according to Al Jazeera. Trudeau told them that the federal government is open to providing assistance for the search.

Cambria and Kera Harris told the news outlet that their mother was a “strong and resilient woman” who came through the disproportionately indigenous foster care system in Canada, and had five children before they themselves were put in foster care due to her struggles with addiction that eventually led to homelessness.

“She tried. She was in and out of treatment centers,” Cambria Harris told Al Jazeera. “She absolutely tried to survive.”

Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said last week that he believed all levels of government have for centuries failed indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people, which is how some indigenous members of the LGBTQ community identify.

“It isn’t on a day like this that we can sit here and pat ourselves on the back about what we’ve been doing as a government. Obviously, it has not been enough,” Miller said last Tuesday. “It is very puzzling to hear the news that this landfill will not be searched. … Clearly, the federal government needs to play a role in an area where jurisdiction is a poisonous word and continues to kill indigenous women and children in this country.”

On Thursday, Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson called for Smyth’s resignation over his refusal to carry out the police search at Prairie Green landfill.

“With the obvious directed violence against these Indigenous women, the message that Danny Smyth sends to the greater community is, ‘Indigenous women do not matter,’” Wilson said in her statement. “With his quick dismissal and lack of support, he is further perpetuating violence against Indigenous women.”

Smyth responded in a letter to indigenous leadership organizations, including the Long Plain First Nation, saying he is “open to exploring” whether it is possible to recover Harris and Myran’s remains from the landfill after speaking with the Winnipeg Police Board and Mayor Scott Gillingham.

“I remain committed to actions that prevent victimization and exploitation of women, and I support efforts that provide respect and dignity to women, their families and the larger MMIWG2S+ community,” Smyth wrote.

“I have heard the calls from the families, the indigenous leadership, and the community. I understand your calls; the pain and sorrow is unimaginable,” he continued. “As the Chief of Police, I am committed to securing a criminal conviction for these heinous crimes. I want justice for Rebecca, Marcedes, Morgan and Buffalo Woman. I will not be resigning.”


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