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Feds commit $740K toward search of Winnipeg-area landfill on National Day of Action for MMIWG

Des petites robes rouges cartonnées sont plantées dans la pelouse du Palais législatif du Manitoba, le 4 octobre 2023.

Des petites robes rouges cartonnées sont plantées dans la pelouse du Palais législatif du Manitoba.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Alana Cole

RCI

Marchers head to Manitoba Legislature, stake lawn with red-dress cutouts

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

The federal government is putting $740,000 toward further review of a possible search of a landfill Winnipeg police believe holds the remains of two First Nations women they allege were slain by a serial killer.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree made the announcement Wednesday, the National Day of Action for MMIWG, one day after Manitoba voters elected their first First Nations premier in NDP Leader Wab Kinew (new window).

Anandasangaree said the funds will go to Long Plain First Nation, which was involved in a search-feasibility study, to help figure out more details about what needs to be done on the technical, logistical and personnel side to search Prairie Green landfill north of Winnipeg.

A group also marched on the legislature from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Wednesday and staked 231 small red dress cutout lawn signs on the legislative grounds. Some yelled Search the landfills ... bring our women home.

Cathy Merrick, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, was with the crowd.

Merrick celebrated Kinew's win Tuesday night alongside loved ones of Marcedes Myran and Morgan Harris, the two First Nations women whose remains police believe are located at the Prairie Green landfill.

It was really nice to be there to be able [to] give my hugs to them because we've been together for quite some time, and I always said that every time we talk about the feasibility study, the issues, they have to relive that pain, said Merrick.

I hope that [moving] forward that our burden won't be as heavy, but there's still going to be a burden until all of the work is done.

AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick embraces Cambria Harris on Tuesday night upon hearing NDP Leader Wab Kinew will become Manitoba's next premier. Police believe Harris's mother Morgan Harris was among four women killed by an alleged serial killer and that her remains are located at Prairie Green landfill. (Viv Ketchum/Facebook)

AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick embraces Cambria Harris on Tuesday night upon hearing NDP Leader Wab Kinew will become Manitoba's next premier. Police believe Harris's mother Morgan Harris was among four women killed by an alleged serial killer and that her remains are located at Prairie Green landfill.

Photo: Facebook/Viv Ketchum

Investigators believe Myran and Harris, both from Long Plain, were killed and their remains relocated to Prairie Green. They are two of four victims police allege Jeremy Skibicki killed.

A feasibility study on a possible search that came out earlier this year (new window) estimated it could take between one and three years and cost between $84 million and $184 million. 

That report said the potential hazards of searching the dump could be mitigated through various safety measures.

The Manitoba Progressive Conservative government said they would not help fund a search, citing health and safety concerns for those involved.

The party went on to make the stance against searching the landfill a key part of its provincial election campaign.

Then, a poll that came out last week suggested Manitobans were split on whether to search. (new window)

But the PC's position on searching the landfill failed to resonate with enough voters in the end, as Kinew and the New Democrats defeated them Tuesday in the provincial election. (new window)

Having a billboard saying that the party was not going to be searching the landfill site was really difficult for many Manitobans to have that as a wedge issue, said Chris Adams, adjunct professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba.

Niigaan Sinclair, professor of Indigenous studies at the University of Manitoba, said he thinks using that as a wedge spelled the doom of the PCs.

They came across as frankly thoroughly racist and for most of urban Winnipeg this was an absolute turnoff, said Sinclair.

The feasibility study also said there was no guarantee a search would turn up remains. 

Kinew said during the campaign that it was important to try nonetheless, and he repeated those words on Wednesday.

It will be important for us to deliver on this, and again, it's important for us to try, Kinew said.

I think the first task before us is to go through the transition and to be sworn in as a new government, and then this will be one of those items that we want to tackle in the very early days of our administration.

Kinew hasn't yet committed a specific dollar figure to the search. He said it's an urgent issue that doesn't need more study, but pledged to collaborate with other levels of government.

Liberal MP Dan Vandal (St. Boniface-St. Vital) said the federal government needs a partner in Manitoba's provincial government to move forward with a search.

I think there's going to be some very interesting conversations that are likely to happen today, said Vandal, the federal minister of northern affairs.

Anandasangaree said the funding will help Long Plain take a deeper look at the search scenarios laid out in the study, with help from collaborators at Prairie Green and provincial and municipal governments. 

Little red cardboard dresses are planted in the lawn of the Manitoba Legislative Building, October 4, 2023.

Little red cardboard dresses are planted on the lawn of the Manitoba Legislative Building.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Alana Cole

Specifically, the additional support will be for investigating potential biohazards and waste identified in the feasibility study.

That study recommended the use of a conveyer belt system for sorting through debris as well as several construction projects that Anandasangaree says will be reviewed further.

He said the hope is the money will explore obstacles that may exist on the labour and permits front.

Members of Long Plain collaborated with the Winnipeg Police Service, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and a local anthropologist on the study, with help from federal support announced late last year. (new window)

Today's funding announcement is a promising and significant step forward in our collective journey toward helping families heal, Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson said in a statement.

Anandasangaree expects the additional research will take 90 days and that all levels of government will meet afterward with the families to decide next steps.

Bryce Hoye (new window) · CBC News ·

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