Indigenous leaders say a search of a Winnipeg-area landfill for the remains of two First Nations women can be done safely and must go ahead.
Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson said she does not accept the Manitoba government’s refusal to fund a search due to the health and safety risks to searchers.
“To say this can’t be done safely is not accurate. It can be done with the necessary precautions and necessary training of those who would be involved,” she told a press conference on Monday.
Police believe the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are in the privately run Prairie Green landfill north of Winnipeg.
A federally funded study said a search of the landfill is feasible, although toxic materials and asbestos pose a risk.
Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) said experts have pointed out there are ways to protect workers.
An Indigenous-led committee that produced the study consulted with a number of experts on best practices for mining a landfill, including one who participated in the search of serial killer Robert Pickton’s pig farm in British Columbia.
“We designed a method to have the highest probability of recovery,” said Emily Holland, a forensic anthropologist.
Kris Dueck, a forensic consultant who worked on the feasibility study, said risks can be mitigated and the search can be done safely.
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson’s office said in a statement the province will continue to offer supports to the families and would work with all levels of government on building a memorial to honour the victims.
“There is no guarantee of finding remains, and immediate and long-term health and safety risks are real and cannot be ignored. We must preserve the integrity of the justice proceedings,” a spokesperson wrote.
Protesters have been blocking a road to Winnipeg’s Brady Road landfill for more than a week to demand the search of Prairie Green proceed.
A judge granted a temporary injunction to end the blockade, but police have yet to enforce it.
“The Winnipeg Police Service is not in a position to discuss details of our operations, but our intent is to achieve a peaceful resolution,” spokeswoman Ally Siatecki said in a statement.
Members of Harris’s family have stated they plan to set up another gathering spot for supporters outside the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Supporters outside the province have been adding their voices to the calls to search the landfill.
Red dresses were laid on the lawn of Parliament Hill on Monday while photos of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls were placed beside them.
“This hurts every day,” said Bridget Tolley, the founder of the advocacy group Families of Sisters in Spirit.
Supporters at the Ottawa rally pleaded for accountability from both the provincial and federal governments.
If they don’t want to help us, they need to step down,” said Tolley.