Potential landfill search reopens old wounds for aunt of woman who went missing over a decade ago

Sue Caribou often sits by the window in her residence, looking down Main Street and sometimes she thinks she sees her niece, who went missing in 2011.

The debate around a potential police search of Prairie Green Landfill, north of Winnipeg’s Perimeter Highway, for the remains of two missing Indigenous women, is making Caribou relive the trauma she experienced more than a decade ago.

“You can’t have closure when you don’t have a body,” she said Thursday, fighting back tears.

The Winnipeg Police Service spent six days searching for Tanya Nepinak, 31, at the Brady Road landfill in 2012, but she was never found.

Caribou said it was challenging for her to get police to search the dump for her niece.

“It began fast, and it also ended fast. They make us happy, and then break another promise, and then we’re right back to where we were,” she said of the search. 

“We don’t have our loved ones and we’re still searching for our loved ones. It’s hard to accept your loved one being in the dump like trash. Our women are not trash.”

Winnipeg police searched the Brady Road landfill for six days in 2012 for the remains of Tanya Nepinak, who has been missing since 2011. (CBC)

Caribou said police offered to erect a monument in honour of Nepinak at the landfill, which she still scoffs at.

“There is no way any human being belongs to be left by the dump. And I’m not going to have a monument at the dump for my loved one. That’s an insult to me and my loved one,” she said.

And there’s also the mental and physical toll the search took on Caribou.

“You feel very devastated. You have nightmares again and again. You’re not eating,” she said.

Charges were stayed against Shawn Lamb — convicted in the death of two other Indigenous women — in part because Nepinak was never found.

Sue Caribou says she is reliving the trauma she experienced more than a decade ago after Winnipeg police halted a landfill search for her niece, Tanya Nepinak. (CBC)

Caribou feels like police gave up searching for Nepinak a long time ago.

“At one point, too, they said they didn’t have enough people to search,” Caribou said. “I figured, if they need people to search, I’m sure our people will be willing to search.”

Members of the Indigenous community have been calling on the police and government to do more in the search for Marcedes Myran and Morgan Harris, since police revealed they believe the remains of the two women are at Prairie Green.

Jeremy Skibicki is facing first-degree murder charges in the deaths of Myran, Harris, and an unidentified woman in her mid-20s who members of the Indigenous community have given the name Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe or Buffalo Woman.

Skibicki was previously charged with first-degree murder in the death of another Indigenous woman, 24-year-old Rebecca Contois.

Winnipeg mayor Scott Gillingham and Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson announced Thursday that the privately owned landfill in the Rural Municipality of Rosser will pause its operations, meaning nothing new will enter the site.

Both politicians said they don’t know what the next steps will be.

Bernadette Smith, NDP MLA for Point Douglas, is relieved to hear dumping has been temporarily suspended.

She says police and the province need to move forward with a feasibility study on how to safely conduct a search of Prairie Green.

Smith’s own sister went missing in 2008 and is presumed dead, but her family continues to look for Claudette Osborne-Tyo.

“We’re constantly in limbo. It’s like a roller coaster ride. It’s every time you hear remains are found or you know someone’s been charged with a crime, it takes you to — could that be your loved one? Could they be responsible for your loved one’s disappearance? You know, we we have no answers,” Smith said.

“Our sister could be in that landfill. We don’t know, and we have to do what we can.”

Smith is calling on all levels of government to fund the study and search Prairie Green.

She says First Nations leaders have promised to do whatever it takes to support these efforts.

“Yes, we have it finally paused, but now we need to look at what can be done and what are the resources and costs of that being done,” Smith said. “And certainly, our First Nation leaders are in favour of that and are supporting that call.”

WATCH | Daughters of slain woman call for Winnipeg police chief’s resignation:

Daughters of slain woman call for Winnipeg police chief’s resignation

11 hours ago

Duration 3:02

Winnipeg’s police chief is facing calls to resign over his decision not to search a landfill north of the city for the remains of two Indigenous women. Now, the mayor and Manitoba’s premier are involved, requesting a pause at the landfill while the feasibility of a search is examined.

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