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‘We’re Going to Try:’ Manitoba Outlines Search Plan for Slain First Nations Women

June 20, 2024 5:28 PM | The Canadian Press

By Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press

Wab Kinew

Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew speaks at an event in Winnipeg, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

About a dozen trained workers will begin searching this fall through mounds of material deposited at a Winnipeg-area landfill for the remains of two slain First Nations women, the Manitoba government announced Thursday.

The province released a timeline for its plan to search the Prairie Green landfill for the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran after announcing last week that environmental regulators had approved the search.

“When somebody goes missing, we go looking,” Premier Wab Kinew told reporters during a briefing.

“We hope that it is successful. We cannot guarantee success, but we can guarantee that we’re going to try.”

Kinew said the province has come up with a “robust, comprehensive and thorough search plan.” The government will lead the search and work with an oversight committee that includes the victims’ families, an Indigenous elder and forensic anthropologists.

Initial planning began earlier this year. The province is building temporary structures for the site, including a healing centre that should be finished next month.

Workers will soon run a test that will shed light on some of the conditions they may encounter during the search.

They will then excavate and search the material collected from the “targeted zone” — the area where Prairie Green has identified where the remains may be located.

The province expects to begin in late fall. It could continue until the following spring.

The area is equivalent to about four football fields and is about 10 metres deep.

Police believe the remains of Harris and Myran were sent to the landfill in May 2022. Owners of the privately operated site halted dumping waste in the area the following month after police notified them of the women’s deaths.

The government’s lead on the project said workers will have to sort through two months worth of refuse, which makes it more difficult to narrow the focus of the search.

“We want to try and get a clue in terms of finding receipts or things of that nature that might have a specific date on it to let us know that we’re in the right vicinity,” said Amna Mackin, assistant deputy minister of transportation and infrastructure.

The province has chosen a search method that requires equipment to excavate the area. The contents will then be brought to a separate search building where workers will manually go through the contents.

“Doing a manual search is the typical way to do landfill searches, whether it’s humanitarian or otherwise,” said Mackin.

This also allows the search to go on through winter. The search facility will be heated and the cold weather helps “improve stability concerns,” said Mackin.

Jeremy Skibicki has admitted to killing Harris, Myran and two other Indigenous women — Rebecca Contois, whose remains were found in a different landfill, and an unidentified woman an Indigenous grassroots community has named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman, whose remains have not been located.

Skibicki’s first-degree murder trial wrapped up last week with closing arguments and the judge has reserved his decision until next month. Defence lawyers argued Skibicki should be found not criminally responsible due to mental illness.

Manitoba’s former Progressive Conservative government earlier rejected calls to search the landfill, saying asbestos and other materials would pose a threat to searchers and the effort has no guarantee of success.

Kinew has assured the search will be done in a way that protects the health and safety of those involved.

The Manitoba and federal governments have pledged $40 million for the search, which is far below cost estimates put forward in earlier studies developed by the victims’ families.

Kinew said the funding shortfall had nothing to do with his government’s plan, which also differs from the families initial proposal.

“This is a better more suitable method for this type of landfill material.”

The province has also committed to funding mental health supports, traditional medicines and the upkeep of a sacred fire as well as honorariums for elders and knowledge keepers.

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