Groundswell of support shows governments need to work on landfill search, says AMC grand chief

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

The leader of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) says she is thankful for a new coalition of churches and church leaders that have joined together in demanding a landfill search for human remains in Manitoba and thankful for recent support she said is proving it is far more than just First Nations people who want to see a search of the Prairie Green Landfill.

“We strongly hold the belief that the collective unity of these groups in supporting the families will demonstrate to the world that this issue is not exclusive to First Nations in Manitoba,” AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said in a media release.

Merrick’s comments come after four national churches — the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, the United Church of Canada, the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada — announced they are calling on all levels of government in Canada to begin work on a search of the Prairie Green Landfill for the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran, two Indigenous women believed to have been murdered and dumped at the landfill north of Winnipeg by an alleged serial killer.

“It’s not just our people demanding justice,” Merrick said. “We are receiving support from around the world, because people recognize that the issue before us is a human rights issue.”

Merrick said she hopes that both the province and the federal government are taking note of the support coming in for a landfill search and of where that support is coming from.

Public calls in recent months to search the Prairie Green Landfill have also come from Amnesty International, 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 collective effort stands as a powerful gesture of reconciliation,” Merrick said. “All levels of government must work together to implement the 231 calls to justice and get real about reconciliation.

“Commitment means nothing without meaningful action.”

Merrick added the support from the churches could go a long way towards repairing some of the damage that has been caused historically to First Nations people through churches in Canada, saying it was a “significant step forward in healing the historic relationship between First Nations and the church.”

Jeremy Skibicki was charged with first-degree murder in December in the deaths of four women, 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 Indigenous leaders are calling Buffalo Woman, whose remains have not been found.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson announced on July 6 that 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.

The feasibility study said a search for Harris and Myran was feasible, but could cost as much as $184 million and pose health and safety threats to workers, and that there was no guarantee that it would be successful.

In a statement sent to the Winnipeg Sun on July 20, a spokesperson for the premier’s office said the premier was firm on her decision and on the reasons behind it.

“Our hearts go out to the families, who are dealing with unimaginable grief, but leadership requires difficult decisions. There is no guarantee of finding remains and immediate and long-term health and safety risks are real and cannot be ignored,” the spokesperson 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.