Landfill search for women’s remains could begin in April, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

The search for human remains in a landfill north of Winnipeg could begin as early as April, the grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said on Friday.

Cathy Merrick said now that the federal government has solidified its funding promise for a feasibility study of a search of the Prairie Green landfill, the work on that process can begin.

It’s expected to take between four and six weeks for the final report to be complete once funding comes in, Merrick said at a news conference.

The federal government announced this week it would provide $500,000 to fund the study, after pledging in December to cover the cost.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, which is leading efforts around that study, previously said it expected to complete the report by the end of March, meaning the search could start shortly after that, Merrick said.

“I think it would be safe to say that probably in April, that the work can actually really be done and get going on that,” Merrick said.

Merrick said both the city and provincial governments have promised additional funds for a search if needed, although no amount has been determined.

Calls to search

Public pressure to search the privately owned landfill began after police announced in December that a man previously charged with first-degree murder in one woman’s death had also been charged in the killings of three others. 

Police said the bodies of two of those women, Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran, were believed to have been taken to the Prairie Green site in May.

At the time, they said it wouldn’t be feasible to search for the women’s remains because too much time had passed and too much debris was deposited in the area since May, when they believe the bodies were taken there.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said last month it had learned no garbage has been dumped in the targeted section of the landfill since June.

The partial remains of Rebecca Contois, the first woman whose death Jeremy Skibicki was charged in, were found at Winnipeg’s Brady Road landfill in June, after some of her remains were discovered near a North Kildonan apartment building a month earlier.

Police have not been able to identify or determine the location of the body of the fourth woman, whom Indigenous leaders have named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.

Skibicki’s lawyer, Leonard Tailleur, said his client intends to plead not guilty to all four counts of first-degree murder. Tailleur said the trial is scheduled to begin in April 2024.

Support is available for anyone affected by details of these cases. 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.

Mental health counselling and crisis support are also available to Indigenous people across Canada 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat.

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