WARNING: This story contains disturbing 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 searching a Winnipeg landfill for her mother’s remains.
The bodies of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are suspected of being at the Prairie Green landfill, a private facility north of the city, and the families have been demanding authorities search the site for months.
Police have said the women were dumped in landfills after they were murdered by a suspected serial killer.
Harris told a rally in Ottawa that it was retraumatizing that Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree invited 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 disrespect that has been shown to my family,” Harris told Breaking:.
She added that experience shows that the Canadian government does not take missing and murdered Indigenous women seriously.
Anandasangaree, in a statement provided by its acting communications director, called the situation “heartbreaking” and urged all partners, including the Government of Manitoba, to come to the table collaboratively.
The House of Commons resumed sitting for the fall on Monday. Meanwhile, Harris remained outside in the shadow of the building, denouncing complacency and jurisdictional disputes.
“It’s clear that reconciliation is dead, because we’re still sitting here, 10 months later, in these rooms with different politicians from all levels of government explaining my story over and over again, begging them to find my mother,” Harris said, 22, a member of the Long Plain First Nation in Manitoba.
“It’s a very, very sad statement.”
Scheduled cross country rallies
People in at least 17 cities were scheduled to demonstrate as part of Monday’s day of action, organized by the Harris and Myran families and supported by organizations such as Amnesty International.
In Ottawa, chants of “Bring them home” and “Search the landfill” could be heard as speakers addressed a crowd of about 100 people, many dressed in red from head to toe, gathered next to the century-old flame of Parliament Hill.
Jordan Myran, sister of Marcedes Myran, briefly addressed the crowd and thanked them for continuing to support the cause.
“We need you to be part of this fight to do this work, everyone needs to start using their voices,” he said.
Residential school survivor Geraldine Shingoose received applause when she told the group that the meeting with Anandasangaree was the first time she had returned a ceremonial gift of tobacco.
“When you give tobacco, you have a give and take relationship, and today we didn’t get anything,” Shingoose said.
Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs agreed the meeting fell far short of expectations.
“We thought they would come with positive news,” he said, adding that “the bureaucracy in our systems” is slowing things down.
“It’s very discouraging,” he said.
Another meeting on Tuesday
Before the rally, Merrick joined families for a news conference across the street from the Westin Hotel, along with Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson, Sisters in Spirit Families, Seven Generations Assembly and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak. The groups continue to pressure the provincial and federal governments to carry out the search.
Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Harris and Myran and two other people: Rebecca Contois, whose partial remains were found in a different landfill last year, and an unidentified woman named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe or Woman Buffalo.
The demonstrations also called for justice for Tanya Nepinak, who disappeared 12 years ago. Police searched for Nepinak’s body at Winnipeg’s Brady Road landfill for six days, but never found her.
The Manitoba government has refused to pay for the search, citing security concerns. Merrick’s association conducted a feasibility study that concluded it could cost between $84 million and $184 million.
The big boss told Breaking: she will participate in another meeting on Tuesday and remains optimistic the federal government will do the right thing.
“I hope so and I hope they have good news tomorrow,” he said.
But Harris’s optimism is running out.
“I will no longer be treated as a tick on a politician’s agenda and as something that is less than a human being, because I was not respected in that room today,” she said.
Support is available for anyone affected by the details of this case. If you need support, you can contact Ka Ni Kanichihk’s Medicine Bear Counseling, Support and Elder Services at 204-594-6500, ext. 102 or 104 (within Winnipeg) or 1-888-953-5264 (outside of Winnipeg).
Support is also available through Manitoba’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Liaison Unit Keewatinowi Okimakanak at 1-800-442-0488 or 204-677-1648.
People outside of Manitoba can call 1-844-413-6649, a free, independent national support line that provides emotional assistance.