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Assembly of First Nations calls for inquiry into deaths of 4 women who were victims of serial killer

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

The Assembly of First Nations wants Manitoba to hold an independent inquiry into the killings of three First Nations women in Winnipeg, and a fourth unidentified woman who is also believed to have been Indigenous.

War Lake First Nation Chief Betsy Kennedy put forward a resolution at the AFN’s annual general assembly in Montreal on Wednesday calling on Manitoba’s lieutenant-governor to establish a commission of inquiry to assess the police and provincial response to the case.

Chiefs voted in favour of the resolution, which was also supported by the families of the victims of Jeremy Skibicki.

Skibicki has pleaded not guilty to four first-degree murder charges in the deaths of the three First Nations women — Rebecca Contois, 24, Morgan Harris, 39, and Marcedes Myran, 26 — and an unidentified woman community leaders have given the name Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman, who police have said they believe was an Indigenous woman in her 20s.

Contois was a member of O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation, also known as Crane River, located on the western shore of Lake Manitoba. Harris and Myran were both members of Long Plain First Nation in south central Manitoba.

The faces of three First Nations women are pictured side by side.
Left to right: Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran and Rebecca Contois. Jeremy Skibicki has admitted to killing all three women, as well as a fourth, unidentified woman, whom community leaders have given the name Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman. His lawyers have argued he should be found not criminally responsible due to mental illness. (Submitted by Winnipeg Police Service and Darryl Contois)

Skibicki has admitted to killing all four women, but his lawyers have argued he should be found not criminally responsible due to mental illness.

A Manitoba judge is expected to deliver a verdict in the criminal case on Thursday. 

Countrywide protests were held over the case, which dates back to 2022, demanding that the Prairie Green landfill, north of Winnipeg, be searched for the remains of Harris and Myran.

The former Progressive Conservative government in Manitoba refused to fund the search, saying it was too expensive, and it became a major issue in last fall’s provincial election.

The PCs were defeated in the election by the NDP, whose leader, Wab Kinew, promised during the campaign to fund the search.

Kinew’s government later committed funding for the search, which is now in its initial stage.

The AFN inquiry resolution that passed at the general assembly on Wednesday said First Nations commissioners should be the ones to carry out the inquiry and evaluate those search efforts.

It also called for National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak to write a letter to Manitoba’s lieutenant-governor in support of the inquiry, and for the AFN to support the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs’ proposed scope of the inquiry.

The proposed scope would ensure protocols are followed to preserve evidence. It would also seek to investigate how systemic biases could have potentially influenced case outcomes.

Morgan Harris’s daughter Cambria Harris said a “sad, sad precedent” was set when government refused to search the landfill where her mother is suspected to be buried.

“Two years ago, I sat here at the AFN and I was begging and crying for all levels of government to find and search for my mother,” she said.

“And now, I can finally say that we’re doing it.”

When the resolution passed, Harris and other family members of the women hugged, smiling through their tears.

The families of the women are expected to speak at the assembly Thursday, after the judge issues his verdict in Skibicki’s case.

Support is available for anyone affected by these reports and the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous people. Immediate emotional assistance and crisis support are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through a national hotline at 1-844-413-6649.

You can also access, through the government of Canada, health support services such as mental health counselling, community-based support and cultural services, and some travel costs to see elders and traditional healers. Family members seeking information about a missing or murdered loved one can access Family Information Liaison Units.

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