The two daughters of an indigenous woman murdered in a recently announced murder are urging officials in Canada to search for her remains at a local dump after police said they can not continue.
Morgan Harris, 39, is one of four women believed to be the target of a serial killer in Winnipeg, the capital of the Manitoba prairie province.
On December 1, Winnipeg Sheriff Danny Smyth charged 35-year-old Jeremy Skibicki with three counts of first-degree murder, including the death of Harris. Skibicki’s attorney, Leonard Tailleur, said his client intends to plead not guilty to all charges.
Skibicki was previously arrested on another first-degree murder charge in May, after the partial body of 24-year-old Rebecca Contois, a member of First Nation O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi (River). crane), was discovered in a trash can.
Many remains of Contois have been discovered at Winnipeg’s Brady Landfill. Police believe the remains of two other women, including Harris, may have been buried at the Prairie Green Landfill.
But at a news conference on Tuesday, the head of the police force’s forensics division said a search of the dump would no longer be possible because of the passage of time and the amount of trash that had been dumped. Websites are compressed regularly through heavy machinery.
Harris’s daughters Cambria, 21, and Kera, 18, were among those denouncing the decision. They traveled from Winnipeg to Ottawa this week to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and asked the police to continue searching for their mother’s body.
“It is dehumanizing. They are treating us like animals,” Cambria told Al Jazeera, as she grieving the loss of her mother. Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson joined Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham on Thursday in announcing that the landfill has been temporarily closed while the city considers next steps.
Both Harris and another alleged Skibicki victim, 26-year-old Mercedes Myran, were from the Long Plains First Nation. Their names, along with a fourth, unidentified victim, were announced during a December 1 press conference, when police revealed they believed Skibicki was a serial killer.
Indigenous elders gave the fourth victim a ceremonial name – Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or “The Buffalo Woman” – to honor her life and spirit. All four murders are believed to have occurred between March and May 2022.
Cambria and Kera remember their mother as a “strong and resilient woman”. Her daughters told Al Jazeera that despite being only 5 feet (1.5m) tall, Harris still had the courage to speak up for herself.
“She has confidence, and people love her for it. She’s not afraid to say what she wants to say, and you can see it through us, like we’re the real embodiment of our mother,” Cambria said.
Harris grew up in a foster care facility, an organization where Indigenous children are overrepresented. A 2021 Canadian census report found that 53.8% of children in foster care are Indigenous, even though Indigenous youth make up less than 8% of the population aged 14 and under.
Harris eventually became a mother of five children, the youngest of whom was only four years old. But when she succumbed to a prescription drug addiction, her children were removed from her care. She started living on the streets of Winnipeg.
“She tried. She has been in and out of treatment centers. She was completely trying to survive,” Cambria said, explaining the “heartbreak” of watching her mother “get lost in the system and fall through the cracks of mental illness, addiction, and ignorance.” housing”.
Cambria and Kera themselves were raised in foster care for most of their childhood. They said that during their teenage years, they lived in group homes and children’s shelters in Winnipeg. Their younger siblings are still in foster care.
“But that doesn’t mean she’s not a great mom,” Cambria said of Harris. “She took the time to go out and see me, and I think that’s great.”
Harris went missing in May. The family searched for her for months afterward but there were no leads. Cambria said she provided police with a blood sample in September, which was then used to identify evidence relating to her mother.
The family was only told that their mother was among the dead women when Skibicki was charged last week. Cambria believes that if the police had acted sooner, they could have used the time to search the landfill. Still, she said, it’s not too late for them to keep looking.
“It may look like a needle in a haystack, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. We need to stop dumping trash on them as if they were trash because they aren’t. These women need a final resting place,” Cambria said. “And let them give up? I could barely get up. I can’t sleep, I can’t eat. I have a stomach ache.”
Her sister Kera has vowed to search the dump herself if it falls.
“I don’t care how long it takes,” Kera said. “These are women. These are the people that need to be found. No human being deserves to be left alone.”
Cindy Woodhouse, regional leader for the Council of First Nations, recently participated in a traditional blanket ceremony for Harris’s daughters at a gathering of national leaders in Ottawa. She was one of the supporters calling for Canada to declare a national emergency following the revelations of the murder.
“This is an urgent national emergency and we need systematic action to address the ongoing genocide against our women, which has directly resulted in the deaths of our women,” Woodhouse said. People.
For Woodhouse, the Winnipeg sheriff’s decision not to search the landfill signaled growing violence against Indigenous women.
“The message the sheriff sends to the larger community is that indigenous women don’t matter. It’s like, ‘Oh, throw them in the trash and no one will look for them,'” Woodhouse said. “Is that the message Winnipeg wants to send to this country?”
The report of the investigation, published in 2019, concluded that “persistent and intentional violations and abuses of the rights of Indigenous and Indigenous peoples are the root causes behind the Canadian riots. amazing rate of violence“against indigenous women, girls, and bisexual (2S) people, a term used by some in the indigenous LGBTQ community.
“It’s indestructible,” said Nahanni Fontaine, a supporter and member of the legislative assembly for Manitoba’s New Democratic Party.
“It is very angry that we are still sitting here talking about this. All I know is that our women are, once again – not just in Manitoba or Winnipeg, but from coast to coast – in danger.”
The two-volume report calls for legal and social changes to address the crisis faced by indigenous women and girls. But Fontaine says governments at all levels of Canada have failed to act.
“We have a detailed plan of what to do. We have 231 Calls for Justice,” said Fontaine, referencing the guide. “Everything was laid out.”
However, Fontaine believes that the lack of political will will eventually allow the violence to continue.
“It is not a compelling political issue. If you’re looking at political parties and parties that want to stay in power, there’s nothing appealing,” she said. “People know that there is a lot of work that is hard, tiring, uncomfortable and happens to also require money. You just need the right people in positions of power to get it done.”
During Tuesday’s press conference, Crown-Indigenous Relations Secretary Marc Miller said federal, provincial and municipal governments have failed Indigenous women and girls, and continue to let them down. .
“No one can confidently stand in front of you to say this won’t happen again, and I think that’s embarrassing,” he said.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Cambria said she feels like a “moving target” as a native. But she and her sister Kera insist their search for justice will not end in Ottawa.
“The fire has been lit and no one will put it out,” Cambria said. “We will go to war. Trust me: We will not back down.”