Funding for Manitoba landfill search welcome, but First Nations-led response still needed

April 25, 2024

Treaty One Territory, Manitoba

AMC Communications

My office is still waiting to hear whether the First Nations-led response noted in our reports will be given the utmost consideration.

Op-Ed by Grand Chief Cathy Merrick, The Hill Times, April 24, 2024 (Link)

Two short months after I was elected as the first female grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) in 35 years, I found myself standing with the families of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran, calling for the resignation of Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smythe as he had just informed the country that his department would not search the Prairie Green Landfill for women who had been left like trash. I have always known that the AMC has advocated for a comprehensive regional approach to address both the systemic causes, and the immediate consequences of the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people (MMIWG2S+) crisis. It was one of the files that I wanted to ensure was addressed within our political organization.

As the former chief of the Pimichikamak Cree Nation, I was more than aware of the fact that there was no on-reserve funding to address this heartbreaking issue. Every chief I have spoken to over the last several years noted how they wanted to be more proactive and have resources to better equip themselves to deal with the genocidal crisis that is taking place off-reserve, where our First Nations citizens have no supports or connections.

My goal was to seek the mandate from our AMC Women’s Council and our Chiefs in Assemblies to direct my office to secure all the monies earmarked for the MMIWG2+ crisis in Manitoba to ensure that each First Nation in the province could hire a co-ordinator that would assist in the development of Community Safety Plans, and to link individuals and families to supports if they had to leave their home community. A proposal was submitted, dozens of meetings took place, ministers changed, and very few recommendations from the National Inquiry on MMIWG2S+ were implemented. But yet, to my surprise, no money flowed. To say that the AMC and I are deeply disappointed by the lack of meaningful action from all levels of government to implement the recommendations of various federal reports—going back to the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action—goes without saying.

It took two reports, several letters, copious amounts of meetings, and a lot of advocacy work to reach the recent commitment of $20-million from both the federal and provincial governments toward searching the Prairie Green Landfill for the remains of three First Nations women. This was heartbreaking work, and the antics of government often induced frustration and anger, particularly when #SearchTheLandfill became a provincial election issue in Manitoba, and the Progressive Conservatives took out ads and billboards that highlighted their insensitivity. People all over Canada knew this, too, and there was backlash and solidarity rallies held across the country supporting the families and the AMC on this humanitarian call for action. While this recent funding announcement is welcome, my office is still waiting to hear whether the First Nations-led response noted in our reports will be given the utmost consideration because, as of now, we are not privy to the details of these funding commitments and next steps. It is almost as if we have been “ghosted,” as the kids would say.

The chiefs of the AMC have always known that the MMIWG2S+ crisis demands our urgent attention and action. It is a tragedy that has been perpetuated by generations of systemic discrimination and violence against First Nations women, girls, and Two-Spirit people. To bring healing and closure to the families and communities affected by these losses, we must work together to search for the missing, to hold those responsible accountable, and to implement the recommendations of the numerous reports that First Nations have identified over these last four decades to address the underlying causes of this crisis.

As the grand chief of the AMC, I stand with our AMC member Nations, ready to work with all levels of government and with all people of goodwill to bring an end to this crisis—that starts with ensuring funding is directed to Manitoba First Nations for a First Nations-led solution. As the grand chief who has stood by the Harris and Myran families, and all of those who have lost loved ones, I will continue to advocate for this search to start, and for monies not to sit on the government’s books.

I believe as a daughter, sister, mother, auntie, and grandmother, that together, we can create a future where First Nations women, girls, men, boys and 2S+ relatives can live safely and freely.

Read this Article on the Hill Times Website: