Advertisement

'No more delays' in searching Winnipeg-area landfill for remains of women: Manitoba grand chief

Jeremy Skibicki is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran, Rebecca Contois and a fourth unidentified woman, whom community members have named Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe, or Buffalo Woman. (Submitted by Cambria Harris, Donna Bartlett and Darryl Contois - image credit)
Jeremy Skibicki is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran, Rebecca Contois and a fourth unidentified woman, whom community members have named Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe, or Buffalo Woman. (Submitted by Cambria Harris, Donna Bartlett and Darryl Contois - image credit)

First Nations leaders are urging the federal and provincial governments to act quickly on findings in a new report that outlines how to search a Winnipeg-area landfill for the remains of two First Nations women believed to have been killed by the same man.

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said her organization — working with input from technical experts, the families of the two women and others — has produced and shared a new search feasibility report on a potential search for the remains of Marcedes Myran, 26, and Morgan Harris, 39.

Winnipeg police believe both were killed by an alleged serial killer, and their remains were taken to Prairie Green landfill, north of Winnipeg, in May 2022.

The new report has been sent to Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew and Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham, Merrick said at a Thursday afternoon news conference in Winnipeg.

"No more delays, no more vague promises," she said. "I speak with urgency and expect action from the governments."

The report identifies two paths forward, including one on an expedited timeline, for how to search Prairie Green landfill for the remains of Myran and Harris, she said.

Donna Bartlett urged governments to act expeditiously on the new report findings and begin to search for her the remains of her granddaughter Marcedes Myran.
Donna Bartlett urged governments to act expeditiously on the new report findings and begin to search for her the remains of her granddaughter Marcedes Myran.

Donna Bartlett urged governments to act expeditiously on the new report findings and begin to search for the remains of her granddaughter, Marcedes Myran. (CBC)

Merrick urged the federal and provincial governments to commit to a firm timeline after reviewing the report, with a start date identified for this year.

AMC said it won't be releasing the report in full publicly, but intended to provide an overview of key information.

Donna Bartlett, the grandmother of Marcedes Myran, said families shouldn't have to beg for a search.

"I am still here fighting to get the landfill search done," she said at Thursday's news conference.

"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."

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.

Other sections 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.

An aerial view of the Prairie Green landfill in the rural municipality of Rosser in Manitoba.
An aerial view of the Prairie Green landfill in the rural municipality of Rosser in Manitoba.

An aerial view of the Prairie Green landfill in the rural municipality of Rosser in Manitoba. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

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 fact is that we could be completed quite quickly," he said, adding they already have a good sense of what section of the landfill to focus on.

A previous feasibility study, which identified a timeline of one to three years for a search, was based on how much material searchers could move per day, said Sparling.

"It could be completed quite a bit quicker than what was previously reported."

Melissa Robinson, Morgan Harris's cousin, said she expects the search could begin this summer.
Melissa Robinson, Morgan Harris's cousin, said she expects the search could begin this summer.

Melissa Robinson, Morgan Harris's cousin, said she expects the search could begin this summer. (CBC)

Melissa Robinson, cousin to Morgan Harris, said she believes a search will start this summer.

Robinson said while some government officials have been "pretty amazing" with families so far, she called out Gillingham.

She said in a meeting six months ago, the Winnipeg mayor 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."

Grand Chief Garrison Settee of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents northern Manitoba First Nations, said he hopes that once funding starts to move that there will be "no interference" in the work that has to be done.

"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."

More to come

Read a previous version of the story below:

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is expected to release details from a new report Thursday on the possibility of a search of a landfill north of Winnipeg for the remains of Indigenous women.

AMC will hold a news conference in the city at 2 p.m. CT to provide an overview of key points from what it's calling an "operational planning report." CBC News will be livestreaming the event here.

Winnipeg police believe the remains of Marcedes Myran, 26, and Morgan Harris, 39, were deposited at the Prairie Green landfill in May 2022.

Cathy Merrick, AMC grand chief, along with several other chiefs, members of the Myran and Harris families, and others are expected to speak to the safety and logistics associated with searching the landfill. They will also be announcing the submission of the report to all three levels of government.

The highly anticipated report is the second feasibility study assessing what might go into a search of Prairie Green, located in the rural municipality of Rosser.

Myran and Harris are two of four Indigenous women investigators say were killed by the same alleged serial killer.

The remains of Rebecca Contois were recovered in 2022 at Brady Road landfill in south Winnipeg. A fourth woman, whom community members have named Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe, or Buffalo Woman, hasn't been identified.

In announcing the latest charges against Jeremy Skibicki, who is now charged with four counts of first-degree murder, in December 2022, Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth said the force made the decision not to search Prairie Green because it wasn't feasible.

That decision 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.

It estimated it could take one to three years and cost between $84 and $184 million to conduct a search.

The Progressive Conservative provincial government at the time refused to move forward with a search, citing safety concerns and hazards identified in that study that crews might face.

The same study, funded by the federal government, said it was feasible to search for the women if certain mitigation measures were put in place.

Ottawa put up another $740,000 last year for this second report exploring how such a search could be done safely while minimizing risks of exposure to toxic materials. An Indigenous-led committee was involved in the report.

Families of the victims received it last week. AMC won't be releasing it in full to the public and will instead be releasing an overview and recommendations on Thursday.

The organization and its partners — including Long Plain First Nation, the home community of Harris and Myran — are expected to share the report findings with the City of Winnipeg, as well as the provincial and federal governments.

Manitoba's governing NDP has committed to searching the landfill.

Skibicki has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder. His six-week jury trial is slated to begin April 29.

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.