The federal government’s commitment to fully fund critical searches at Winnipeg’s Prairie Green and Brady Road landfills for the remains of Indigenous women was deemed “non-existent” on Monday by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs following a meeting with Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree.
“Through Treaty obligation, they are responsible for the health and wellness of First Nation people. Yet, for 150 years now, our people have been set aside,” AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick stated in a press release Monday, the same day of the International Day of Action to Search the Landfills.
Merrick sent out a call to action for the landfills to be searched.
“So why doesn’t the government to support [it]? Why are these families being told to wait while Canada determines what department has the authority to fund such a search?”
The AMC, in partnership with the families of Marcedes Myran and Morgan Harris, and Chief Kyra Wilson of Long Plain First Nation — located 127 kilometres northeast of Brandon — met Monday Minister Anandasangaree in Ottawa to discuss the ongoing crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
Specifically, the discussion focused on whether the federal government would be elaborating on funding discussions to search both landfills, where the families of Harris and Myran suspect the remains of their loved ones lie.
During the meeting, Anandasangaree reaffirmed his commitment to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Marc Miller, but did not confirm the financial support required for starting search and recovery efforts in the landfill, the AMC said.
The lack of action on the issue left Wilson disappointed and disillusioned with the federal government, she said.
“You have a responsibility as the federal government to work with First Nations,” Wilson said. “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.”
Their families of the women believed to be in the landfill, who travelled to Ottawa from Manitoba, said they expected Anandasangaree to tell them the federal government would fund the search when they met with him yesterday.
Morgan Harris’ daughter, Cambria Harris, instead called the meeting a retraumatizing experience, and said the federal government has not yet promised to help.
“It was clear today — the precedent was set — that reconciliation is dead,” she said.
Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Harris, Myran and two others — Rebecca Contois, whose partial remains were found in a different landfill last year, and an unidentified woman Indigenous leaders are calling Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe or Buffalo Woman.
Families, supporters and organizations including Amnesty International Canada marked Monday as an International Day of Action to Search the Landfills, in an effort to pressure governments to do more. Rallies were scheduled to take place in at least 17 cities, including Winnipeg.
Harris said it was “vile” that Anandasangaree would call for a meeting with the families and their supporters on a day set aside for action.
“I don’t think this government realizes that if they do not search that landfill, we have a whole load of community (members) who will go in there with excavators, and we will go and we will retrieve our loved ones,” she said.
By not committing to a search in the landfill, Harris said the minister sent a message to others that Canada is content to “leave Indigenous women and girls in the dump.”
Harris pointed to all levels of government for their “beating around the bush and pointing fingers” instead of committing to fund a search of the landfill.
She said Anandasangaree informed the group he still had questions about the feasibility study that was conducted to see if it was possible to search the landfill.
A statement Anandasangaree made to the Sun via email yesterday said the situation is heart-wrenching, and is part of the sad reality of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
“I had the opportunity last month in Winnipeg, and again this morning in Ottawa, to meet with family members, along with the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the Chief of Long Plain First Nation, and other representatives. I understand the frustration of families and communities as they seek progress,” he said.
The federal government continues to be in discussion with the AMC and the Long Plain First Nation on the next steps forward, Anandasangaree stated.
“We are committed to this ongoing dialogue and moving forward with work that would address the complexities and findings of the feasibility study.”
While the federal government is looking at potential next steps to supporting the search, Anandasangaree is encouraging all partners to come to the table and work collaboratively, including the provincial government.
“Our approach must be trauma-informed and Indigenous led,” Anandasangaree said. “Our government will continue to work in partnership with Indigenous leaders, families, survivors, and communities to support healing and closure,” he said.
The federally funded feasibility study found a search of the landfill is possible, but toxic materials and asbestos could pose a risk to workers.
An Indigenous-led committee that produced the study consulted with experts on best practices for mining a landfill, including one who participated in the search of serial killer Robert Pickton’s pig farm in British Columbia.
The search could take up to three years and cost $184 million with no guarantee of success. But the report said forgoing a search could be more harmful for the women’s families.
“We have proven — more than proven — not only our worth, but that my mother is more than worth searching for and that it is absolutely feasible,” said Harris.
For Racette, it doesn’t matter which government is in power federally or provincially, only that they do the right thing and help to bring the women home.
“It doesn’t matter which government is in there. They should do their part,” she said. “If it was their children, I’m sure they’d spend the millions trying to recover them.”
The Brandon Friendship Centre and chief and council from Ebb and Flow First Nation have added their voices of support to the AMC in asking Ottawa to fund the search of the Prairie Green and Brady Road landfills.
“The Brandon Friendship Centre (BFC) stands in solidarity with the International Day of Action to Search the Landfills. All too often, our Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit and gender-diverse people are the last ones to be recognized when safety and well-being are concerned,” BFC executive director Gail Cullen told the Sun.
The BFC is urging the provincial government to reconsider its decision not to search the landfills and to start a search immediately, Cullen said.
“We understand the colonial history of Canada. A search of landfills is a new step towards creating a history where all Canadians work together for reconciliation,” she added.
Margaret Racette, a band councillor at Ebb and Flow First Nation, located 205 kilometres northeast of Brandon, agrees that all levels of government need to do more to help grieving families of MMIWG bring their loved ones home.
“I truly feel sorry for the families’ loss,” Racette said. “They’re trying to put these people, these children to rest in a proper way, and to bring them home.”
» email@example.com, with files from The Canadian Press
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