WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
First Nations advocacy groups, a local chief and family members are demanding that Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth resign over his decision not to search a landfill for the remains of two women.
Police believe the remains of Marcedes Myran and Morgan Harris, both members of Long Plain First Nation, are in the Prairie Green Landfill, but they said earlier this week that a search for their bodies isn’t feasible.
Harris’s daughters Kera and Cambria Harris spoke at a news conference in Ottawa on Thursday, calling for Smyth’s resignation over his “disgusting” decision not to search for their mother.
“We saw this happen with residential schools, and here you are, once again, creating unmarked graves of Indigenous peoples, and that’s wrong and it needs to end,” Cambria said.
“If you can’t help us, if you don’t feel like you’re capable of finding these women, then you should step down and give someone else a chance to make the right decision and give us a resolution,” Kera said.
Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson said the Winnipeg Police Service’s inaction is sending a troubling message.
“To me, the message that you’re sending is that our women do not matter, Indigenous women do not matter … that if someone wants to target and hurt our women, that they can dump them in the landfill and no one will look for them,” she said at the news conference.
“We will do whatever we have to do to look for our women to bring them back home.”
Leaders from the Southern Chiefs Organization, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) and Assembly of First Nations also attended the news conference and are calling for Smyth’s resignation.
CBC News asked for a comment from the police chief early Thursday morning, but there was no response as of noon.
Earlier this week, police said they wouldn’t search the Prairie Green landfill because the women’s remains are likely buried under a mountain of garbage, heavy construction clay and animal remains, and there is asbestos in the landfill, making a search dangerous for officers.
AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick pointed to other landfill searches for remains in other parts of the country that were successful.
“In Toronto, where there was a missing Caucasian man, and they found him like a needle in a haystack, in a landfill that was bigger than what we’re talking about in Manitoba,” Merrick said at the news conference.
“If they can do that, Winnipeg can do that to be able to find our women and to be able to bring them home.”
MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said police should do what is right.
“It’s tragic to think even in death, they are still discriminated [against]. But that’s going to stop. We say ‘No more, no more’ to the violation of our sisters,” he said.
Wilson said she will organize a search of the landfill if the Winnipeg Police Service is unwilling to do it.
“I am looking into what that will look like for these searches. I don’t know how much it’s going to cost. I don’t know what the plan is going to look like, but we are going to do it, and that is something that I’m promising,” she said.
The remains of Rebecca Contois were recovered in June after a search of the Brady Road landfill in Winnipeg. Police said that was possible because the section of the dump where her remains were was pinpointed and shut down mere hours after the remains arrived, and the area hadn’t been packed down tightly with heavy construction clay.
Police aren’t sure where the remains of a fourth victim are. Community members are calling her Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.
Jeremy Skibicki is charged with first-degree murder in connection with all four deaths, but the allegations haven’t been proven in court.
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.
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