Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, experts say Prairie Green Landfill search could take less than a year

Prairie Green

The Prairie Green Landfill is a private facility outside Winnipeg owned by Waste Connections Canada. Photo: Jesse Andrushko/APTN News

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said the search of the Prairie Green Landfill for the remains of two slain First Nations women could cost less and take a shorter amount of time than previously reported, but full details outlining logistics have not been released to the public.

Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said a new report addressing safety concerns around searching the landfill for the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran was sent to the federal and provincial governments, as well as to Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham’s office, this week.

“We expect that the findings in this report will expedite the funding required to begin the search and recovery operation,” Grand Chief Cathy Merrick told a news conference Thursday.

“Over a year we have done everything asked of us … we cannot offer to produce any more reports.”

Merrick told reporters the assembly wanted to give officials ample time to go through the report before releasing its contents, but would not say if or when it would be released in the future.

Gary Anandasangaree, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, thanked the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Long Plain First Nation, where the two women were from, for their work and said he expects to meet with them in the future.

“We are reviewing the report and will work with families, the province, Long Plain First Nation, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and other partners to move forward in a trauma-informed and culturally sensitive manner,” he said in a statement.

Police have said they believe the remains of Harris and Myran were taken to Prairie Green, but declined to search due to the length of time the women were believed to be in the landfill and safety concerns over exposure to toxic chemicals.

Read More: 

‘No other way’: Former Anishinaabe Mountie playing a role in Winnipeg landfill search 

Manitoba premier resets relationship with families at Winnipeg ceremony

The federal government funded an initial feasibility study that looked at the various scenarios and challenges that come with searching a landfill.

The study determined a search could be completed safely, despite some risks, and that it could take up to three years and cost $84 million to $184 million.

Ottawa provided $740,000 to further research the logistics of conducting the search safely.

ISN Maskwa, an Indigenous-owned company that provides emergency response training and services, was brought on to address some of the concerns the federal government had when it comes to risk mitigation and personal protective equipment requirements.

Officials with ISN Maskwa and Rocky Mountain Forensic Consulting said the study contains seven sub-reports that discuss, in part, accessing equipment, building a facility to process the findings from the landfill and staffing requirements.

Sean Sparling, director of investigations with ISN Maskwa, said the search would likely take less time than what was originally outlined.

“It’ll take approximately six months to staff the search, build the facility and get started,” he said. “The fact is that (the search) can be completed quite quickly. There’s good data and information as to potentially where these leads are located.”

Sparling also said the initial costs outlined are likely too high, but neither he nor Merrick would confirm the new estimates.

He added the biggest delay would likely be around permitting, which the provincial government handles.

Melissa Robinson, Harris’s cousin, called on Premier Wab Kinew to “cut some of that red tape.”

“Our premier has that authority. He has that power to be able to do that. He needs to move a little quicker for us,” she said.

Families Minister Nahanni Fontaine said in a statement the province remains committed to searching the landfill.

“We have received the (Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs) proposal and will be reviewing it. The next step will be to work with the families on a strong path forward that delivers on our commitment.”

Robinson is also calling on the city to provide land space to use for the search facility. She said the family would like to see it done at the city-run Brady Road landfill because it is where a camp honouring her cousin has been set up since police announced charges in Harris’s death in 2022.

Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Harris, Myran and two others — Rebecca Contois, whose partial remains were found in a different landfill last year, and an unidentified woman Indigenous leaders are calling Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe or Buffalo Woman.

The mayor’s office said a request is in to review any available land, but that further discussions are “pending” until a search plan has been agreed upon between other levels of government and the assembly.

Robinson said she has never lost hope her cousin will be found, and remains confident the new report will provide the means to do that.

“I’ve always believed that we’re going to find Morgan. Morgan is going to come home, we are going to lay her to rest.”

Story by Brittany Hobson.

Contribute Button