The decision to search a Winnipeg-area landfill for the remains of two First Nations women and who will fund a search remains up in the air a month after a feasibility study was completed.
The study, conducted by an Indigenous-led committee, estimated it could take up to three years and cost $184 million to search the Prairie Green Landfill for the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran.
But family members of the two women and Indigenous leaders insist it must go ahead.
Manitoba’s premier said a potential search of the landfill should be led by the federal government and families.
“I know (the family) has been in touch with the federal government; we’ll leave it to them for right now,” Heather Stefanson told reporters Thursday.
Stefanson has not read the study but said the province is standing by the families of Harris and Myran. She did not commit to providing provincial money to help fund the search of the landfill.
A study examining whether a successful search is possible looked at the various scenarios and challenges that come with searching a landfill. It concluded a canvass of the Prairie Green Landfill is feasible. The study was obtained by The Canadian Press but wasn’t released to the public.
It warned there are risks due to exposure to toxic chemicals, but said forgoing a search could be more harmful for the families.
The office for the minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations said they have received the feasibility study and are “reviewing it diligently.”
“We will provide more comments when it is appropriate to do so, after our review,” Marc Miller’s office said in an email.
“We need to make sure our work is done right, in a culturally sensitive and trauma-informed manner, and keeping at heart the families, survivors and communities.”
Miller has been in contact with the families and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the organization that spearheaded the study, but his office would not disclose the details of those conversations.
The minister’s office said if funding is approved, it does not need to be while the House of Commons is sitting, it can be done at any time.
The family of Harris continues to push for all levels of government to support the search. The family plans to rally next week outside the Manitoba Legislative Building to bring attention to what they say is a lack of response from the province.
The family wrote on social media they requested a meeting with the premier, but to date no meeting has been set up.
Stefanson said she had no knowledge of a request to meet with the families or Long Plain Chief Kyra Wilson. Harris and Myran were both members of the southwestern Manitoba First Nation.
Ottawa is also reviewing a proposal to search the city-run Brady Road landfill.
Families have been calling for the search of that landfill after Winnipeg police found the partial remains of Rebecca Contois last year.
Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Contois, Harris, Myran and an unidentified woman Indigenous leaders have named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe or Buffalo Woman.
Police have not found her remains.
Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham has seen portions of the study.
He said the city is supportive of the community, but pointed to the federal government when asked if any city supports or resources would be provided for the search of the privately owned Prairie Green Landfill.
When it comes to the potential search of the Brady landfill, Gillingham said the city does not have the level of funds needed to conduct a search.
“The cost estimates are, just frankly, well beyond what the City of Winnipeg would be able to supply.”
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.