Daughters of murdered Indigenous woman push Canada for action

By Brandi Morin

Two daughters of an Indigenous woman murdered in a recently announced killing spree are calling on officials in Canada to search for her remains in a local landfill after police said they can no longer continue.

Morgan Harris, 39, is one of four women believed to have been targeted by an alleged serial killer in Winnipeg, the capital city of the prairie province of Manitoba.

On December 1, Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth charged Jeremy Skibicki, 35, with three counts of first-degree murder, including the death of Harris. Skibicki’s lawyer, Leonard Tailleur, said his client intends to plead not guilty on all counts.

Skibicki was previously arrested on another count of first-degree murder in May, after the partial remains of 24-year-old Rebecca Contois, a member of O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi (Crane River) First Nation, were discovered in a garbage bin.

More of Contois’s remains were uncovered at Winnipeg’s Brady Landfill. Police believe the remains of two more women, including Harris, might be buried at the Prairie Green Landfill.

But at a press conference on Tuesday, the police force’s head of forensics said it would no longer be feasible to search the landfill, because of how much time had passed and the amount of garbage that has been dumped. The site is routinely compacted via heavy machinery.Harris’s daughters Cambria, 21, and Kera, 18, are among those denouncing the decision. They travelled from Winnipeg to the capital city of Ottawa this week to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and demand that the police continue the search for their mother’s body.

“It’s dehumanising. They’re treating us like animals,” Cambria told Al Jazeera, as she grieved the loss of her mother. Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson joined Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham on Thursday to announce that the landfill has paused its operations while the city considers next steps.

Both Harris and another of Skibicki’s alleged victims, 26-year-old Mercedes Myran, are from the Long Plains First Nation. Their names, along with a fourth, unidentified victim, were announced at a December 1 press conference, when police revealed they believed Skibicki to be a serial killer.

Indigenous elders have given the fourth victim a ceremonial name – Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or “Buffalo Woman” – to honour her life and spirit. All four murders are thought to have taken place between March and May of 2022.

Cambria and Kera remember their mother as a “strong and resilient woman”. Though she was only five feet (1.5m) tall, Harris had the courage to speak up for herself, her daughters told Al Jazeera.

“She had confidence, and people freaking loved her for it. She was not afraid to say what she wanted to say, and you can see it through us, like we’re literal embodiments of our mother,” said Cambria.

Harris was raised in foster care, an institution where Indigenous children are dramatically overrepresented. A 2021 Canadian census report found that 53.8 percent of children in foster care are Indigenous, though Indigenous youth accounted for less than 8 percent of the population aged 14 and under.

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