By Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government will be joining an Indigenous-led committee tasked with determining whether it’s possible to recover the remains of two First Nations women believed to be in a landfill outside of Winnipeg.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is leading the group, which also includes outside experts and Winnipeg police.
The committee is to put together a feasibility study that will include a search and budget plan that will then be presented to different levels of government.
The federal government says it will fund the study and it would like a discussion about what resources are needed from various levels of government.
Police believe the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran were sent to the Prairie Green landfill in the spring, but rejected the idea of a search citing the passage of time, the lack of a precise location within the landfill and the tonnes of material, including clay and animal remains, that have been deposited since then.
Premier Heather Stefanson says operations for a portion of the landfill have been halted since last week and will remain that way indefinitely.
It has yet to be determined what role the province will play in the feasibility study but Stefanson committed to providing technical resources and expertise that are needed, as well as pitching in to cover costs.
The premier said Friday the province must be mindful of the justice process and also ensure a, “respectful and appropriate examination,” of whether it’s feasible to recover the bodies.
“It is honourable and appropriate that the leadership of the Indigenous community take the lead for this on this work.”
Stefanson met with Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Friday afternoon to discuss next steps.
Earlier in the day, she spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who pledged financial support for the feasibility study and offered additional assistance as needed, she said.
Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Harris, Myran, Rebecca Contois, whose partial remains were found in a different landfill, and a fourth unidentified woman who community leaders have called Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.
“We grieve for you. You are loved. You are missed,” said Stefanson. “I commit to the families today that we will do everything in our power to protect the integrity of the justice process, so that you can find some closure.”
Merrick said all politicians need to step up and protect Indigenous women and girls.
“We are here today to start that journey to be able to work together.”
Merrick added it shouldn’t have taken Harris’s family travelling to Ottawa to bring the issue to the national stage to get the help and support they had been calling for.
The committtee is set to meet on Monday.