Indigenous groups are considering their own study into a potential search of a landfill outside Winnipeg for the remains of two women believed to be the victims of an alleged serial killer after police declined to look there.
They are also calling on the federal government to help in their next steps.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Marc Miller, minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Patty Hajdu, minister of Indigenous Services, and Marco Mendicino, minister of Public Safety, seven First Nations groups laid out their needs in the potential search of the Prairie Green landfill for the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran.
“In lieu of this inaction by the Winnipeg Police Service, we are forced to advocate for loved ones now that trust has been broken by this decision not to search,” the letter reads.
The groups are requesting the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to oversee the search. They also want the federal government to provide immediate resources to conduct a feasibility study, fund resources for the families affected, cover costs associated with a search and agree to call in the RCMP if Winnipeg police refuses to search.
Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson said leaders are meeting this week to form a committee of experts to put together a search and budget plan. They are speaking with forensics and archeological experts, as well as landfill operators.
“I’m very positive that we will have the right people at the table to push forward these conversations,” Wilson said in an interview.
They are hoping to present a plan to provincial and federal governments, and request funding.
Police believe the remains of Harris and Myran, who are both from Long Plain but lived in Winnipeg, ended up in the Prairie Green landfill in the spring.
The chances of finding them are low due to time that has passed, as well as the heavy, compacted mud at the site, police have said.
The owner of the private landfill has stopped operations and continues to work with all authorities. Barry Blue, district manager with Waste Connections of Canada, did not say how long the company would pause work at the site.
Wilson, Harris’ family and First Nations leaders expressed outrage over what they called the police’s inaction in searching for the women and called for the chief of police to resign.
Police Chief Danny Smyth, as well as representatives from the city and the province, have offered to meet with Indigenous groups to determine next steps.
After a meeting Monday, the Winnipeg Police Board decided to leave decisions on next steps for a search up to Indigenous groups and federal and provincial governments.
“There has been an open offer for Indigenous leaders to meet with Chief Smyth and his executive to receive a briefing on the health and safety issues associated with conducting a humanitarian recovery search of the remains to the extent it is possible,” Coun. Markus Chambers, who is the board’s chairperson, said in a statement.
Chambers added the board has no further comments on next steps.
The office of Mayor Scott Gillingham said he has been speaking with Indigenous leaders and other levels of government to determine how the city can help, and is “encouraged” by the dialogue between different groups.
Public Safety Canada referred all questions to Winnipeg police.
Police did not respond to requests.
Jeremy Skibicki is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Harris, Myran, Rebecca Contois and a fourth unidentified woman that Indigenous leaders have called Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.
Police believe the women were killed over a two-month period in the spring, although only Contois’s body has been found.
Her partial remains were discovered in a garbage bin in the city and in another landfill in the spring.
Wilson could not provide a timeline for when a feasibility study could be completed, but said “time is of the essence.”
“It can’t be an extended period of time, just given the fact that we want this to continue to be a priority in terms of conversation and actions moving forward.”
Wilson plans to meet with Smyth on Wednesday.
Brittany Hobson/The Canadian Press