Manitoba

Hundreds rally, march in downtown Winnipeg to demand search of landfill for women's remains

Chants calling for a search of a landfill for the remains of two First Nations women rang out across downtown Winnipeg on Thursday, as hundreds of people flooded the city's most famous intersection for a round dance.

'Impossible to move forward' on a search without Manitoba's co-operation, feds say

A group of people are seen lining up holding hands.
About 200 people took part in a round dance at Portage and Main on Thursday afternoon to call for a search of the privately run Prairie Green landfill for the remains of two Indigenous women. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

Chants calling for a search of a landfill for the remains of two First Nations women rang out across downtown Winnipeg on Thursday, as hundreds of people flooded the city's most famous intersection for a round dance.

CBC News counted about 200 people gathered at Portage and Main just after 2 p.m. CT. A red dress was painted on the pavement at the intersection before the round dance began, and people stood chanting "search the landfill," before forming into circles.

Some people at the rally carried signs painted with red handprints reading "justice for our sisters," "enough is enough" and "am I next?"

Some also had red handprints painted over their mouths.

Rainey Raven, one attendee, said events like Thursday's rally bring awareness to the city.

"It's showing the government that we can come together as a whole," she told CBC News. "We're not giving up."

Two people are pictured painting the pavement with red paint.
A red dress was painted on the pavement at Portage Avenue and Main Street before the dance began on Thursday afternoon. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

The chants continued as marchers made their way through the city's downtown, with some drivers honking their horns in support.

They arrived at the provincial legislative building shortly before 3 p.m., where people called out for action. Children were seen painting red handprints on the building's front steps.

Chants of "heartless Heather" broke out among the crowd at the front of the legislative building.

The push to search the privately run Prairie Green landfill for the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran has been growing since December 2022, after Winnipeg police said it's believed the homicide victims' remains were taken there, but that it would not have been feasible to search for them by the time that determination was made.

The pressure intensified when Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said last month that her government would not support a search of the landfill north of the city, citing dangers to searchers from exposure to toxic material.

A feasibility study completed in May determined a successful search could take up to three years and cost up to $184 million.

Province's decision unchanged

The families of Harris and Myran met earlier in the day with federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree, who was appointed to the cabinet post last week.

"Canada is committed to acting" but "we cannot do this work alone," a spokesperson for Anandasangaree said in a Thursday statement.

"The federal government has no control over the daily operations at the landfill.… It is impossible to move forward without the co-operation of the province."

Harris's cousin Melissa Robinson, who was part of the meeting with Anandasangaree, said she walked away feeling optimistic.

"For the first time in eight months we were given any kind of hope, and it meant so much," she said.

A woman is shown speaking to reporters as a large crowd gathers behind her.
Melissa Robinson, a cousin of Morgan Harris, says federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree indicated a search of Prairie Green is possible and that he wants one done. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

Robinson said the minister read the feasibility study, indicated the work was possible and said he wants a search done.

Anandasangaree's office said his visit to Winnipeg included meetings with the families, Indigenous leaders and the city's mayor. The premier did not meet with the federal minister, but her office said it was notified that Anandasangaree would be in Winnipeg for other meetings.

A spokesperson said the Manitoba government has not changed its position on a landfill search, citing the need to protect workers' health and safety, and the need to "protect the integrity of a Manitoba Justice proceeding against the alleged murderer."

Harris and Myran were among four women who police allege were killed by the same man.

Jeremy Skibicki is charged with first-degree murder in their deaths, as well as in the killings of Rebecca Contois and an unidentified woman whom community members have named Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe, or Buffalo Woman. His trial is scheduled for 2024.

A young girl in an orange shirt is seen planting orange flags in the grass, among a sea of other orange flags.
Ralliers placed orange flags on the front lawn of the Manitoba legislative building on Thursday. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

During Thursday's rally, Kyra Wilson — chief of Long Plain First Nation, where Harris and Myran were members — called for people to make their opinions known on the province's decision not to support a search ahead of the Manitoba election scheduled for October.

"We need to vote out Heather Stefanson," Wilson said at the legislature. "We need to make our voices loud and heard."

Dozens of people placed orange flags across the lawn in front of the legislative building following the speeches.

Salena Starling, who attended the rally, says Manitoba's decision not to search Prairie Green "affects the lives of every Indigenous person here in Canada."

A woman is shown holding an orange flag and looking to the camera. Behind her, dozens are seen planting orange flags in the grass.
Salena Starling, who attended the rally, says the federal government's willingness to conduct a search for Harris and Myran gives her hope, but action from the province is needed. (Özten Shebahkeget/CBC)

While the federal government's willingness to conduct a search for Harris and Myran gives her hope, "the one thing that we do need is that one person inside the legislature to make that change," she said, referring to Stefanson.

Starling said she felt empowered to see so many different people at the rally.

"I just want people to understand that we need to search the landfill. It isn't just because we're Indigenous — it's because [these are] human lives."

Hundreds rally, march in downtown Winnipeg to demand search of landfill for women's remains

2 months ago
Duration 1:51
Chants to search a landfill for the remains of two First Nations women rang out across downtown Winnipeg on Thursday, as hundreds of people flooded the city's most famous intersection for a round dance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Özten Shebahkeget is a member of Northwest Angle 33 First Nation who joined CBC Manitoba in 2021 through the inaugural Pathways program. She is Anishinaabe/Turkish Cypriot and grew up in Winnipeg's North End. She holds a master of fine arts in writing from the University of Saskatchewan. You can reach her at ozten.shebahkeget@cbc.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press's Brittany Hobson and Steve Lambert

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