First Nation members send silent message in support of landfill search during Manitoba PC leader's visit

St. Theresa Point First Nation members sent a silent message advocating for a search of a Manitoba landfill during a recent campaign stop by Progressive Conservative Leader Heather Stefanson — though images of the visit posted to social media by the PCs made no explicit mention of that message.

St. Theresa Point members wore red in support of MMIWG and search during Heather Stefanson's campaign stop

Two people in red meet two politicians during a campaign visit.
Tanya Dawn McDougall, left, and Albert Shingoose, second from left, meet with Keewatinook PC candidate Michael Birch, second from right, and PC Leader Heather Stefanson during a recent campaign visit to St. Theresa Point First Nation in northeastern Manitoba. (Submitted by Clint Flett)

A year and a half on, there's still no sign of Ashlee Shingoose.

The pain of that uncertainty was written on the face of her father, Albert Shingoose, when Progressive Conservative Leader Heather Stefanson leaned in to shake his hand during a campaign visit last week in St. Theresa Point First Nation.

"I am very, very … down, feeling low, feeling lost without my daughter," who was last seen in March 2022 in downtown Winnipeg, said Albert.

He had a message for Stefanson when she visited the northeastern Manitoba First Nation.

"Search the landfill, search the landfill! I said that loud and clear for her," he told CBC News.

Those calls were also on display at St. Theresa First Nation School, where hundreds of students took part in a silent statement by wearing red or holding up red signs.

Three people wearing red clothing pose for a selfie on a gravel road.
McDougall wore red face paint in the shape of a hand to signify missing and murdered Indigenous women while Shingoose draped a red blanket over his shoulder when they met with Stefanson. (Submitted by Tanya Dawn McDougall)

Those calls have been repeated in the weeks since Stefanson's PC government, which is now seeking a third consecutive term, refused to support a search of the Prairie Green landfill.

Police believe the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran — two First Nations women suspected to have been victims of an alleged serial killer — are in the landfill, north of Winnipeg.

Stefanson has cited potential risks to workers in denying to support a search.

Roy Mason, the school's vice-principal, says he didn't necessarily want to make the search into a political issue during the PC leader's visit, but acknowledges there was a collective desire to send a message.

"When we learned [Stefanson] was going to visit, we wanted to show support to have the landfill searched," he said. "[It] gave us an opportunity to participate."

Six people dressed in red hold up signs with red and black icons in honour of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
St. Theresa Point First Nation members dressed in red hold up signs commemorating missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls during Stefanson's visit. (Submitted by Clint Flett)

Tanya Dawn McDougall, who works as a mental health advocate at the school, let Mason and other school administrators know of plans for a silent statement — not a protest or rally — to be made in a respectful way.

Mason was supportive of the move and the school encouraged families to wear red to school that day.

"Quite honestly, I didn't want a politician coming into my community thinking that we're totally oblivious to her stance on the issue," said McDougall.

'This is about being human,' not politics

With McDougall at his side, Albert Shingoose broke down in tears when he was introduced to Stefanson during her tour as a man whose daughter is missing. The PC camp posted a photo of the emotional moment to Stefanson's X (formerly Twitter) account, touting the visit.

McDougall felt the lack of acknowledgment that people were making a statement misrepresented the experience of the visit.

"The fact she posted that, I just had to shake my head," said McDougall. "This is not about politics. This is about being human."

Stefanson said she visited St. Theresa Point to listen.

Her campaign declined to say what was said between her and Shingoose or any other community members, though she acknowledged the topic of a landfill search did come up.

"While I respect that not everyone agrees with my position, my stance remains firm: that for health and safety reasons, the answer just has to be no," she said in a statement on Wednesday.

WATCH | Stefanson outlines reason for not searching in July:

Manitoba premier says decision not to fund landfill search for remains was about safety

3 months ago
Duration 0:59
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson says her government’s decision not to provide financial support for a possible search for remains in a Winnipeg-area landfill was made because of safety concerns for the technicians who would be sifting through the materials.

Frank Deer, the associate dean of Indigenous education at the University of Manitoba, said the search is an election issue for him and others he knows.

He wrote an article in the publication The Conversation last week outlining why he thinks there is a moral argument for a search.

"They'll never get their loved ones back, but if we can address their trauma now and in doing that better the relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people ... that would be a good journey," he said. 

"I'm not at all surprised that some in the Indigenous community and outside that community are very concerned ... with the stance that the government has taken."

A man with short hair, glasses, a white collared shirt and beige jacket poses for a photo next to a teepee.
University of Manitoba associate dean of Indigenous education Frank Deer argues governments have a moral obligation to search the Prairie Green landfill. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

A feasibility study released earlier this year suggested the search could be done, with safety measures in place, at an estimated cost of $84 million to $184 million.

The Manitoba Liberals have committed to funding half of the costs associated with searching Prairie Green if elected in the Oct. 3 vote, with an initial commitment of $42 million.

"This has been turned into a political football and the PCs are using it as a wedge issue," party leader Dougald Lamont said on Monday.

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said in August that a search of Prairie Green would also take place "as soon as possible" under his government, but he stopped short of making any funding commitment.

Earlier this week, Kinew said his party would "work with the families to have a good-faith effort — we definitely need to try," but added that "of course, priority No. 1 is going to be to fix the health-care system."

One political expert says voters don't necessarily have a clear cut difference in position between the PCs and the NDP on the issue, because Kinew hasn't made an outright commitment to search "at any and all costs."

WATCH | Kinew outlines position on landfill search in June:

Manitobans want to see 'people come together and look for some kind of compromise or collaborative way forward here ': Kinew on Winnipeg landfill search standoff

3 months ago
Duration 6:05
"We have to try," Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew told Power & Politics on Friday after a court granted an injunction to remove a blockade on the road to the landfill. "We should make a good faith attempt to find the remains of these women."

Kinew's stance, like Stefanson's, is the product of political calculation, said Paul Thomas, a professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba.

"This was a concrete example of his promise to govern on behalf of all Manitobans," said Thomas. "He knows better than most people that the Indigenous community is not a monolithic group which has one shared viewpoint."

Thomas said big issues — cost of living, health care and the economy — are top of mind for most, and some voters "believe money would be better used on programs, services to prevent violence against women," than on a landfill search.

A man in a traditional First Nations headdress made of feathers and beads, and wearing a red shirt with black and white trim, sits at a table and speaks into microphones.
Chief Elvin Flett of St. Theresa Point First Nation said pressing needs facing people in his community were the focus of conversations with Stefanson and Birch. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

St. Theresa Point First Nation Chief Elvin Flett says he welcomed Stefanson and Keewatinook PC candidate Michael Birch to the community, but worries the issues of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and of a landfill search, are being lost in the election.

Flett also said there are so many "insurmountable" social challenges in his community that they dominated conversations with Stefanson and Birch.

"The quality of life in our community and the lack of resources ... that was the main thing we brought forward," said Flett.

"We're caught in welfare subsistence, we're caught in a bottleneck health-care system," he said.

But "I'm not putting the issue of missing people down," he added. "As a matter of fact, it's right up there with issues that I just mentioned."

Silent landfill protest greets Stefanson's visit to Manitoba First Nation

19 days ago
Duration 3:52
Progressive Conservative Leader Heather Stefanson made a campaign stop at St. Theresa Point School last week, where hundreds of students wore red and held up signs to urge her to support a search of a Winnipeg-area landfill for the remains of two suspected homicide victims.


Bryce Hoye


Bryce Hoye is a multi-platform journalist covering news, science, justice, health, 2SLGBTQ issues and other community stories. He has a background in wildlife biology and occasionally works for CBC's Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He is also Prairie rep for outCBC. He has won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award for a 2017 feature on the history of the fur trade, and a 2023 Prairie region award for an audio documentary about a Chinese-Canadian father passing down his love for hockey to the next generation of Asian Canadians.