‘HEART-WRENCHING’: Feds call for collaborative approach to potential landfill search

The federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations is facing increased criticism, after First Nations leaders say the minister told them this week the federal government was making no financial commitments towards a landfill search for the remains of two Indigenous women.

“Despite the gravity of this crisis, the federal government’s commitment to fully fund critical landfill searches at Prairie Green remains non-existent,” AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said in a statement reacting to a Monday morning meeting between Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Gary Anandasangaree and those who have been advocating for a landfill search of the Prairie Green Landfill for the remains of Marcedes Myran and Morgan Harris.

“Through Treaty obligation, they are responsible for the health and wellness of First Nation People.”

On Monday, Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson said that First Nations leaders, families and advocates were called to a meeting in Ottawa with Anandasangaree, but at the meeting were told the minister has more questions and was so far making no commitment that the feds would give financial support for a search of the Prairie Green Landfill.

And with the province already saying they would offer no assistance, and the federal government offering no commitment, Indigenous leaders and families say they continue to be frustrated with a lack of action.

“Don’t bring us into a meeting to tell us again that you have no commitment,” Wilson said.

“Last year, there was approximately $2.2-billion that was given back to the Treasury Board from CIRNAC that should have come back to First Nations. Where is that money now? You have a responsibility as the federal government to work with First Nations.

“If you’re not going to work with us, then we will take legal action and we will make sure that we hold you accountable.”

Jeremy Skibicki was charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of four women in December, including Harris and Myran, whose remains are both believed to be at the privately-run Prairie Green Landfill north of Winnipeg.

He has also been charged in the death of Rebecca Contois, whose remains were found last year at the Brady Road Landfill, and an unidentified woman that Indigenous leaders are calling Buffalo Woman, whose remains have not been found.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson announced on July 6 the province would not offer assistance to search the Prairie Green Landfill, saying she came to the decision because of the results of a feasibility study that said there would be safety risks involved in that type of search and no guarantee the search would be successful.

But a growing list of Indigenous and non-Indigenous-led organizations have been publicly calling on the province and the feds to fund and support a landfill search. In recent months calls for a search have come from the United Church of Canada, CUPE Local 500, the national Union of Taxation Employees, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Provincial Council of Women of Manitoba, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the Treaty Commissioner of Saskatchewan, and several other organizations, officials and politicians across Canada.

“This call to action has been supported by so many – churches, unions, Amnesty International, the Canadian Human Rights Museum,” Merrick said. “So why doesn’t government want to support? Why are these families being told to wait while Canada determines what department has the authority to fund such a search?”

In an email, Anandasangaree said the federal government wants to continue to work with advocates and families, but called the issue “complex.”

“The situation surrounding the Prairie Green landfill is heart-wrenching and is part of the sad reality of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls,” Anandasangaree said. “I understand the frustration of families and communities as they seek progress. “We continue to be in discussion with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Long Plain First Nation on next steps. We are committed to this ongoing dialogue and moving forward with work that would address the complexities and findings of the feasibility study.”

The minister also called on the province of Manitoba to revisit the issue, saying a “collaborative approach” was needed to get the landfill searched. “We encourage all partners to come to the table and work collaboratively with us, including the Government of Manitoba, as addressing the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls requires collaboration across all levels of government,” Anandasangaree said.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun