WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Cambria Harris walked out of a meeting with a federal minister Monday morning, she said, after the government came with questions about feasibility rather than a firm commitment to search a Winnipeg landfill for her mother’s remains.
The bodies of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are suspected to be in the Prairie Green Landfill, a private facility north of the city, and families have been demanding authorities search the site for months.
Police have said the women were dumped in landfills after they were killed by an alleged serial killer.
Harris told a rally in Ottawa it was retraumatizing for Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree to invite the families to a meeting on Monday without bringing anything new to the table.
“I actually ended up walking out of the meeting because of the amount of just disrespect that my family has been shown,” Harris told CBC News.
She added that the experience shows the Canadian government doesn’t take missing and murdered Indigenous women seriously.
Anandasangaree’s acting communications director acknowledged a request for comment but did not provide one by time of publishing.
The House of Commons resumed sitting for the fall on Monday. Harris meanwhile stood outside in the building’s shadow, decrying complacency and jurisdictional squabbling.
“It’s clear that reconciliation is dead, because we’re still sitting here 10 months later in these rooms with different politicians of all levels of government explaining my story over and over, begging them to find my mother,” said Harris, 22, a member of Long Plain First Nation in Manitoba.
“That’s a sad, sad statement to make.”
Rallies scheduled cross country
People in at least 17 cities were scheduled to rally as part of Monday’s day of action, organized by the Harris and Myran families and supported by organizations like Amnesty International.
In Ottawa, cries of “Bring them home” and “Search the landfill” rang out as speakers addressed a crowd of about 100 people, many clad head to toe in red, gathered by Parliament Hill’s centennial flame.
Jordan Myran, sister of Marcedes Myran, addressed the crowd briefly, thanking them for continuing to support the cause.
“We need you to be a part of this fight to get this work done, everybody needs to start using their voices,” she said.
Residential school survivor Geraldine Shingoose received cheers when she told the group the meeting with Anandasangaree was the first time she ever returned a ceremonial gift of tobacco.
“When you give tobacco, you have a giving and receiving relationship, and we didn’t get anything today,” Shingoose said.
Grand Chief Cathy Merrick, of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, agreed the meeting fell well short of expectations.
“We thought that they would come with positive news,” she said, adding that “bureaucracy in our systems” is slowing things down.
“It’s very discouraging,” she said.
Another meeting Tuesday
Before the rally, Merrick joined the families for a news conference down the street at the Westin Hotel, along with Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson, Families of Sisters in Spirit, Assembly of Seven Generations and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak. The groups continue to pressure the provincial and federal government to conduct the search.
Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Harris and Myran and two others: Rebecca Contois, whose partial remains were found in a different landfill last year, and an unidentified woman being called Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe or Buffalo Woman.
The rallies also called for justice for Tanya Nepinak, who went missing 12 years ago. Police searched for Nepinak’s body at Winnipeg’s Brady Road landfill for six days, but she was never found.
The Manitoba government has refused to pay for the search, citing safety issues. Merrick’s association conducted a feasibility study that found it could cost somewhere between $84 million to $184 million.
The grand chief told CBC News she will participate in another meeting on Tuesday and remains optimistic the federal government will do the right thing.
“I hope they do, and I hope they have good news tomorrow,” she said.
But Harris’s optimism is running out.
“I will no longer be treated like a tick on a politician’s agenda and something that’s less than a human being, because I was not respected in that room today,” she said.
Support is available for anyone affected by details of this case. If you require support, you can contact Ka Ni Kanichihk’s Medicine Bear Counselling, Support and Elder Services at 204-594-6500, ext. 102 or 104 (within Winnipeg), or 1-888-953-5264 (outside Winnipeg).
Support is also available via Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Liaison unit at 1-800-442-0488 or 204-677-1648.
People outside Manitoba can call 1-844-413-6649, an independent, national, toll-free support call line that provides emotional assistance.