Winnipeg is the epicentre for missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada

Indigenous women account for 65% of homicides in Winnipeg between 2018-22.

A gentle breeze pushes through the prairie landscape.

Red ribbons can be seen strewn across a chain-link fence at a local landfill. A red dress is also tightly attached.

The symbols for missing and murdered Indigenous women and Two-Spirit people (MMIWG2S) encircle the Brady Road Landfill in Winnipeg.

It’s a site homicide investigators believe houses the remains of several Indigenous women.

Cambria Harris, 22, tends to the makeshift campsite at the landfill.

Winnipeg murders
Morgan Harris, 39, a victim of a homicide. Submitted by Cambria Harris.

Her mother, Morgan Harris went missing in May of 2022.

In December 2022, the Winnipeg police announced her remains are believed to be located at another waste facility outside the city, the Prairie Green Landfill.

Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran, Rebecca Contois and Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe (Buffalo Woman) are all believed to be the victims of first-degree murder.

“It’s sad that they end up in spots like that. But the most you can do is try to save them and, in this case, there was no saving for the four women who were taken,” said Harris.

Within the last year, Cambria has become a leading voice for MMIWG2S in the city.

She said she is still coming to terms with the loss of her mother.

“It angers me because my mom was… she was such a strong, resilient woman who really tried her hardest to survive.”

Harris comes from a long line of strong First Nations women, many of whom were victims of the residential school and child welfare systems.

Intergenerational trauma is passed down again and again.

“I was apprehended at the age of six and CFS (Child and Family Services) has the power to split siblings up,” she said, adding that her mother was failed by the system.

“When you lose your children to the system, you lose. You lose everything, you lose yourself and you lose your home and you lose your mind.”

Over the years, Harris watched her mother’s struggles with addiction, mental health issues and homelessness.

She said she always wondered where her mother was when she was growing up.

“Every time it got cold, every time it rained, I prayed that she had somewhere safe and somewhere warm to go because, in the back of my mind, I had that fear that she was going to go missing or murdered,” said Harris.

The young mother called for the operations of the landfills to cease and for the city to search for the women’s remains.

While operations were temporarily stopped, a decision was made not to conduct a search, something police said would be too difficult given the amount of time that had passed.

Neither the City of Winnipeg nor the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) agreed to speak with APTN Investigates for this story.

In the days that followed the WPS announcement, Harris and her younger sister travelled to Parliament Hill to implore leaders to search the landfills.

“These women are deserving of a proper resting place, not to be left alone in a landfill in the dead of winter,” said Harris.

Winnipeg murders
Brady Road Landfill in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Photo: Wilfred Moar/APTN

On April 3, 2023, the remains of Linda Beardy, 33, were discovered by staff at the Brady Road Landfill.

Beardy was a member of the Lake St. Martin First Nation.

The WPS ruled out any foul play days after the discovery, citing video surveillance showed her climbing into a garbage bin without exiting before it was taken to the landfill.

Her loved ones described her as a fierce supporter of her family and four children.

Soon after the discovery of Beardy, Cambria Harris organized a rally to put pressure on the governments to search for the women.

“How many times do I have to be out here? There are so many families out there, and today we honour Linda Beardy,” she said.

Winnipeg murders
Jennifer Chartrand is a captain with Winnipeg’s Mama Bear Clan. Photo: Brittany Guyot/APTN.

Jennifer Chartrand started walking with the Mama Bear Clan as a way to give back to her community and turn her life around.

The mother of six is now a captain with the grassroots group.

She said she’s witnessed the violence Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people encounter in the city.

“We give away food, clothing, hygiene, stuff like that and in the wintertime, we give away blankets and winter jackets and boots,” she said, adding that their main goal is to keep people on the streets safe.

Just a few years earlier, Chartrand said she found herself in a similar situation.

“When I was out there and when I was vulnerable at one point in my life, I felt like nobody cared about me and I know that feeling so I don’t want to let others feel like that,” she said.

The women Jeremy Skibicki is accused of killing are women Chartrand often ran into.

“It just breaks your heart, you just can’t believe stuff like this happens in this world, especially when you think they’re in shelter and then they leave and just don’t come back,” she said.

She said Winnipeg needs to be doing more to protect vulnerable populations.

“Sometimes I’m scared because you never know what happens out here. It’s this city, anything can happen,” said Chartrand.

Winnipeg murders
A flyer seeking to identify Buffalo Woman. Photo: Josh Grummett/APTN.

An APTN investigation found that Indigenous women accounted for 65 per cent of all female homicides from 2018 to 2022.

Last year alone, Indigenous women accounted for nearly 20 percent of all homicides in the city while making up just six per cent of the population.

Indigenous women also accounted for every unsolved female homicide in the last five years.

It’s a vast overrepresentation that marks a city in crisis.

With the highest rate of violent crime across the Prairies, NDP MP Leah Gazan (Winnipeg Centre) said urgent action is needed to address the growing number of MMIWG2S.

“This is a non-partisan issue, this is a human rights issue, this is a life-or-death issue,” she said.

Gazan pushed for the House of Commons to adopt a motion to end violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people called the Red Dress Alert system.

It’s similar to an Amber Alert, which notifies community members of a missing child. Instead, the Red Dress Alert would send out a notification about a missing Indigenous woman.

“We have had a national inquiry that was released in 2019, with a failure to act,” said Gazan, referring the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls that outlined 231 calls to justice.

“The normalization of genocide against Indigenous women and the kind of violence we’re witnessing now, especially in Winnipeg, where we’re finding women are being found in landfill sites, speaks to the normalization of genocide,” Gazan said.

This past February, the federal government committed $500,000 for a feasibility study to search the Prairie Green Landfill.

The announcement came after months of discussions with the province and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

The study wrapped up last week and concluded that the search is feasible. The plan could take up to three years and cost as much as $184 million.

Harris said she is hopeful the women’s remains will be retrieved and given proper treatment.

“This is a problem across all of Canada and this shouldn’t just be an Indigenous people’s problem, this should be an everybody’s problem,” she said.

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