A long-standing women’s organization says they are disappointed with the provincial government and with all levels of government, as calls grow for a Manitoba landfill to be searched for the remains of two Indigenous women, and they worry what message a continued lack of action will send to Indigenous women, and to all women in Manitoba.

“We want women to feel safe, and they don’t feel safe,” Provincial Council of Women of Manitoba president Daria Jorquera Palmer said. “That is something we hear all the time from Indigenous and non-Indigenous women is that they don’t feel safe in Winnipeg.

“And now the message we are sending to women is that if you are a woman than your body is not worth recovering, so what kind of message are we now sending to women?”

PCWM is a federation of Manitoba organizations and individuals that has advocated for “the welfare of women, families and the society,” since being formed in 1949, and Jorquera Palmer said the organization is focused on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and advocates for the safety of all women and girls in Manitoba.

Advocates and families have been calling for months for a search of the Prairie Green Landfill for the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran, two women whose remains are believed to have been dumped at the landfill north of Winnipeg by alleged serial killer Jeremy Skibicki.

Skibicki was charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of four women back in December, including Harris and Myran.

He has also been charged in the death of Rebecca Contois, whose remains were found last year at Brady Road Landfill, and an unidentified woman that Indigenous leaders have called Buffalo Woman, whose remains have not been found.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson announced on July 6, 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 that showed a search was feasible, but that there would some safety risks involved in that type of search and no guarantee the search would be successful.

Jorquera Palmer said that PCWM was disappointed in the premier’s decision.

“As an organization that represents women in Manitoba, we are concerned and honestly we are disappointed with the response of all governments to not search the landfill,” she said.

“There was a feasibility study that said it was feasible, and we know how far that would go to provide support and closure to the families of those missing and murdered women.”

As governments at all levels continue to claim that they are focused on reconciliation with Indigenous people, Jorquera Palmer said moving ahead with a landfill search would be a good step forward on those reconciliation efforts, while not doing anything could be a big step backwards.

“If governments want to really and truly incorporate reconciliation than they need to listen, otherwise we are going to continue to create distrust within the community,” Jorquera Palmer said.

“This is an opportunity for governments to listen and work with their communities.”

A spokesperson for the premier’s office told the Winnipeg Sun last Thursday that the premier stands by her decision because of possible health and safety concerns cited in the feasibility report which include possible exposure to asbestos, hydrogen sulfide, methane and other biological hazards, as well as risks of physical injuries in the search area, and possible mental health risks for searchers searching for human remains.

“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 in an email.

— 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.

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 28, 2023 at 17:44

This item reprinted with permission from    The Sun    Winnipeg, Manitoba
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