Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
In the final act on the final day of the Assembly of First Nations' annual general assembly in Halifax today, chiefs passed an emergency resolution denouncing all levels of government, police and law enforcement for not adequately searching for and recovering the bodies of murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people.
Specifically, the resolution called for Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson to reconsider the decision she made earlier this month to not search the Winnipeg-area Prairie Green landfill where the bodies of Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran, and Buffalo Woman are believed to be located.
“I stood here in December when we lost our women. And I'm standing here again asking for support,” said Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
At that time, Long Plains First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson stood by the daughters of Morgan Harris as they called for the landfill site to be searched. Both Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are members of the Long Plains First Nation.
Buffalo Woman or Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe is the name given to the unidentified woman whose remains are also believed to be located in Prairie Green landfill.
The federal government funded a feasibility study to look into searching the landfill site.
On July 5, Stefanson announced that the search would not be undertaken as there was no guarantee for success and the health and safety of workers would be compromised.
“We understand the desire to leave no stone unturned. However, the search process described in the report is complex, and comes with long-term human health and safety concerns that simply cannot be ignored,” said Stefanson.
Conducting the search could take up to three years and cost an estimated $184 million.
Merrick expressed disappointment with the words spoken by Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller who addressed the chiefs shortly before the emergency resolution was read on the floor.
Merrick also expressed disappointment for not being allowed to speak when Miller was in attendance. One of the co-hosts for the AFN assembly closed the speakers’ list and refused to re-open it because resolutions still had to be dealt with and time was running down in the assembly.
“I wanted him to hear from my mouth to his ears as to what's happening in Manitoba,” said Merrick.
In his comments to chiefs, Miller chastised the Manitoba government for its decision.
“The province could do this on their own if they so choose,” he said. “We're not asking them to do that, but they could, given their jurisdiction, and their important duty as derives from the honour of the Crown.”
He added that the tragedy at the Winnipeg landfill site didn’t stand on its own.
“This isn't one isolated incident. And despite the investments that this government has made to ending the tragedy, and to murdered, missing Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG), the risks are that this situation will happen again. And what message does that send to your people, to your women, to your children, to the two-spirit community if a province can step back and say it's not our problem?” said Miller.
That’s not good enough, said Merrick.
“Minister Marc Miller and the federal government have a fiduciary responsibility to our people. And they have the authority to be able…to search the landfill for our women,” she said.
The resolution also calls for the Manitoba government to search the Brady landfill site. The remains of Rebecca Contois, a member of the Crane River First Nation, were located in that landfill.
The resolution also called for the AFN to advocate to the federal, provincial and municipal governments for funding commitments for both searches.
Proxy Judy Wilson, a long time MMIWG advocate, said more needed to be done.
“We really have to do better for our women, girls and two spirit because as we push and push a lot hasn't changed,” she said.
The chiefs stood for 30 seconds of silence to honour the women and others who do not have a voice.
The resolution passed by consensus.
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