BONOKOSKI: The ongoing search for remains of murdered Indigenous women in Manitoba
BONOKOSKI: The ongoing search for remains of murdered Indigenous women in Manitoba

A search for the remains of two Indigenous women at a Winnipeg-area landfill could take up to three years and cost as much as $184 million, says a study examining whether a successful search is possible.

The study, obtained by The Canadian Press, looked at the various scenarios and challenges that come with searching a landfill and concluded a canvass of the Prairie Green landfill is feasible.

The feasibility study warns of “considerable risks” in a search due to exposure to toxic chemicals and asbestos, but that forgoing the search could be more harmful for the families of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran — the two First Nations women who Jeremy Skibicki is accused of murdering.

Skibicki, a 35-year-old Winnipeg man with deeply seated white supremacist inclinations, was first charged with the first-degree murder of a First Nations woman, Rebecca Contois, whose body was found at the City of Winnipeg’s Brady Road landfill in June 2022.

Winnipeg police have said they believe Harris and Myran are somewhere within Prairie Green, a private landfill in the rural municipality of Rosser just north of Winnipeg.

An Indigenous-led committee spearheaded by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs commissioned the feasibility study after police said they would not be searching the Prairie Green site because of the passage of time and the large volume of material deposited there.

The committee included family members, First Nations leaders, forensic experts and representatives from the province and the city.

The study says it’s not guaranteed a search would locate the women’s remains, and could take one to three years and would cost $84 million to $184 million.

It’s like betting the farm on a couple of ghosts.

But, Cathy Merrick, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said that not conducting the search would send a dark message to First Nations people across the country that Canada’s governments condone the act of disposing of their women in landfills. 

“It breaks my heart to say these words: disposing of our women in landfills,” she said. 

“These women were all loved, they were cherished. Families should not feel like the odds are stacked against them in bringing closure to their grief.”

The report says police believe the women’s remains were left in a garbage bin three days apart in early May 2022. The contents of the dumpster were sent to the Prairie Green landfill on May 16.

Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of the three women, as well as a fourth who remains unidentified but whom Indigenous leaders have named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.

Police have not found her remains.

The feasibility report says governments should consider the potential societal costs of conducting a search, including the emotional impact on families.

“Nothing about a potential search of this size and scale is easy, and the toll on the families and First Nations and Indigenous communities must be considered with the appropriate supports being made available,” it says.

“Until Marcedes and Morgan are properly returned home, these women, their families and all our communities endure a sacrilege.”

Back on May 4, the federal minister responsible for Crown-Indigenous relations said the study had been completed into whether it’s possible for a Winnipeg-area landfill to be searched for the remains of two Indigenous women.

Marc Miller’s office, however, did not release any details from the feasibility study and said in a  statement that it’s being reviewed.

Ottawa provided $500,000 to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs to study a search at the Prairie Green landfill, just north of Winnipeg.

In order to proceed with a search, Prairie Green would need to submit a proposal to a regulatory body to approve the excavation and transportation of materials.

That report was submitted last week to Miller’s office.

It does not say who should pay for the search.

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