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“Something So Enraging…”
by Gary Porter -
“There’s something so enraging, devastating and surreal about being here again, and talking about the disposal of an Indigenous woman in another garbage fill,” said Nahanni Fontaine, the Manitoba NDP Official Opposition spokesperson on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
In December 2022, Winnipeg was shaken by allegations that Marcedes Myran, Morgan Harris, Rebecca Contois and a fourth woman – later given the name Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe, or Buffalo Woman – had been murdered by an alleged serial killer. Winnipeg police charged Jeremy Skibicki in connection with their deaths.
The murders were thought to have been committed between the months of March and May 2022. Police in Winnipeg, Canada say they won't search a landfill where two women are believed to be buried without authorization. Politicians say they won’t do it because of safety concerns.
Police claim the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are in a different, privately run Prairie Green landfill north of Winnipeg, but there has been no search.
According to news media reports, Jeremy Skibicki, charged with first-degree murder expressed support in the past for the far right on social media, filling his Facebook page with white supremacist, misogynistic and antisemitic comments.
In 2019, a woman to whom Mr. Skibicki was married requested a protection order against him. In court records, she alleged a pattern of abuse in their relationship, including him monitoring her phone usage, not allowing her to leave her apartment, and forcing her to take medications at night and to engage in “non-consensual sex.”
An Indigenous-led committee headed by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs prepared a feasibility study of whether a search of the Prairie Green landfill is possible. Police initially rejected the idea of a search citing the passage of time, the lack of a precise location within the landfill, and the obstacle of tonnes of material that were later deposited in the area. The study concluded that the search was feasible including cautionary steps to protect searchers from the hazards of toxic waste. The cost would be at least $84 million. Conservative Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson declined to perform the search citing safety concerns. But these are excuses. Cost is the main factor. Are two (and possibly more) indigenous women really worth the effort and cost?
Note: the submersible Titan was recovered 12,500 feet (2.36 miles) below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean with no hesitation and at great cost to the US Coast Guard and US taxpayers. Of course, there had been a white male billionaire on board.
Some community and family members have been calling for a search of the publicly owned Brady landfill as well.
An organization representing 34 First Nations in Manitoba is calling for all levels of government to work toward implementing the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and its 231 demands for justice to help create a safer society for women, girls, and two-spirit people.
“In December, we asked that the Brady landfill be classified as an active crime scene. Only a few months later and we are hearing of one of our sacred women being located in this space,” said Grand Chief Jerry Daniels.
“This is devastating news. It is clear that so much more needs to be done to protect our women.”
Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham offered his condolences to friends and family of Beardy, and the larger Indigenous community. He said he was in touch with Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs to offer support.
Community leaders have been pushing the city to come up with measures at landfills that would prevent the disposal of bodies at the sites.
City staff at the landfill have been vigilant in monitoring this type of activity, said Gillingham. Garbage trucks have also been outfitted with GPS tracking devices to aid police investigations. Apparently, the dump watch has little priority and has been spectacularly unsuccessful.
Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the province is willing to work with the city, although so far only “thoughts and prayers” have been offered.
Nahanni Fontaine, the Manitoba Official Opposition NDP spokesperson on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, said there have been many recommendations and road maps to address violence against Indigenous women and girls. Current governments have yet to undertake a co-ordinated response to address the problem.
Any violence is unacceptable. Based on annual data from Statistics Canada, Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people continue to experience higher rates of violence. Despite comprising only 4 per cent of the Canadian population, Indigenous women and girls are 28 per cent of homicides perpetrated against women in 2019 and are 12 times more likely to be murdered or missing than non-Indigenous women in Canada. Indigenous women are also more likely to be affected by all types of violent victimization. Data from Statistics Canada's Homicide Survey show that the rate of homicide among Indigenous women in 2019 was more than 7 times higher than among non-Indigenous women, at 4.01 per 100,000 population compared with 0.55 per 100,000 —a number that is even higher for Inuit women and Indigenous women in the Far North. The Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability in its annual report on femicide noted that in 2020, approximately one in five female victims killed by a male-accused was an Indigenous woman or girl.
In addition, data from Statistics Canada's Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces in 2018 demonstrates that Indigenous women with a disability are approximately two times more likely than Indigenous women without a disability to have been sexually assaulted since the age of 15.
The National Inquiry concluded that the violence it heard about "amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis, which especially targets women, girls, and 2SLGBTQIA+ people." In 2019, at the Women Deliver conference in Vancouver, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated, "we accept their [the National Inquiry's] findings, including that what happened amounts to genocide.”
The problems are rooted in a history of profound settler colonial violence against Indigenous people, a deeply racist and misogynistic society, and a dismissive, racist, sexist, and violent police force. Underlying all these problems is the very nature of Canadian capitalism. Capitalism is based on private ownership of the means of production, exploitation of a class of workers who have nothing to sell but their labour, and the expropriation and sale of the products of their labour for profit. Human need is not a factor. Indigenous people in Canada lived communally, shared ownership of limited means of production, and produced collectively, entirely for human need. To the capitalists they were ignorant savages unwilling to submit themselves to capitalist exploitation and alienation. Their lands were seized, their resources exploited, their culture disparaged and suppressed. Their children were kidnapped and sent to Christian schools to erase the “Indian” in them through beatings, hard labour, sexual assault, and murder. These were the values of the white oppressors. The capitalists were the savages. It was to their benefit that whites were educated, generation after generation, to treat indigenous people with fear, racism, apathy, violence, and sadism. Indigenous women and girls are treated as sexual objects to be used and disposed of in the most casual and appalling manner by white racist men, including cops. THIS MUST STOP.
What should be done? First, search the land fill sites immediately and thoroughly - no more excuses. Secondly, fund the empowerment of Indigenous women.
Economic independence of indigenous women can advance through the provision of meaningful employment at a living wage, free/subsidized childcare, quality, free education, and training. Needed is targeted funding to indigenous communities to create these conditions on-reserve and in urban centres where their members reside (e.g. the North End of Winnipeg), services run by indigenous women as they deem appropriate. But this policy must be extended to all Indigenous nations.
Under indigenous direction, the standard of living must be raised to equal that of the white population, including employment, health, education, social services, and infrastructure. A self-governing politically, economically, and culturally free people will lay the basis for an entirely different way for indigenous to see themselves and to be seen by whites.
Thirdly, the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be respected and fully implemented. Land back and self-determination together with restitution for stolen resources, purposeful impoverishment, and brutalization of indigenous peoples is essential. Finally, white capitalist society must change. Violence against Indigenous people must be fought with the full force of the law. Response must be immediate and include full use of resources. Cops must be held fully accountable for acts of racism and violence under criminal law and must be fired immediately. Evidence of RCMP dismissiveness towards the safety and security of indigenous women and girls, slow or non-response to notification of missing or assaulted indigenous women and girls with appropriate resources must not be tolerated. The RCMP should be held accountable by local independently elected Police Review Boards in which indigenous people must be represented. The education system should be transformed to educate non-Indigenous Canadians about life in Canada prior to the European invasion, about the nature and violence of that invasion, and the systematic genocidal nature of Canadian state institutions, and political leadership. It is time to learn about the appalling record of capitalist exploitation and oppression as a vital step towards social emancipation.