Indigenous leaders in Manitoba offered their strongest condemnation yet of Heather Stefanson for her refusal to assist with a landfill search for the remains of two women, asking that the Manitoba Premier now resign because of what they say is her “disregard” for the human rights of Indigenous people.
“We maintain an open invitation to the Premier, stand with us as a partner in this vital work to bring our missing women home, or step aside,” Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson said in a Friday media release.
“Should she continue to choose the latter, she must recognize that our united voice, upheld by the strength of our community holds significant weight.”
On Friday, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Chiefs-in-Assembly passed a resolution calling on Stefanson to resign as premier, and not run for re-election in the upcoming provincial election, because of her refusal to assist with a search of the Prairie Green Landfill north of Winnipeg for the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran.
The resolution passed unanimously during the Chiefs Annual General Assembly held in the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation last week, and states that the premier should step down because inaction on a search is, according to the resolution, a violation of human rights.
Article 12 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which outlines that Indigenous people have the right to develop and teach their own spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies, also states Indigenous people have “the right to the repatriation of their human remains.”
“All political party leaders should be committed to implementing the UNDRIP and reconciliation,” AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said in a Friday media release announcing the passing of the resolution. “This includes the search for, and repatriation of human remains.
“Heather Stefanson’s disregard for respecting human rights and promoting reconciliation as the Manitoba PC Party Leader means she will do the same if she is re-elected as Premier.”
Calls have been growing for months for the Prairie Green Landfill to be searched for the remains of Harris and Myran, two Indigenous women who are believed to have been murdered and dumped there by alleged serial killer Jeremy Skibicki.
Skibicki was charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of four women back in December, including Harris and Myran, whose remains are both believed to be at the privately-run Prairie Green Landfill, north of Winnipeg.
He has also been charged in the death of Rebecca Contois, whose remains were found last year at the Brady Road Landfill, and an unidentified woman that Indigenous leaders have called Buffalo Woman, whose remains have not been found.
Stefanson announced on July 6 the province would not offer assistance to search the Prairie Green Landfill, saying she came to the decision because of the results of a feasibility study that said a search was feasible, but that there would be safety risks involved, and no guarantee the search would be successful.
Last week, the Winnipeg-based Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) announced they were in full support of calls for a landfill search, and also said they believed that inaction on a search constitutes a violation of UNDRIP, and of Indigenous people’s human rights.
“It is a universal human value that the remains of the dead should be treated with dignity and their families accorded respect,” CMHR said in a letter recently addressed to AMC. “Our role at the museum is to encourage people to understand our world through the lens of human rights.
“In this situation, the human rights implications are clear.”
The Winnipeg Sun reached out to the premier’s office for comment on Monday but so far has not received a response.
A spokesperson for the premier’s office told the Winnipeg Sun back in July that the premier was standing by her decision because of possible health and safety concerns cited in the feasibility report.
“Our hearts go out to the families, who are dealing with unimaginable grief, but leadership requires difficult decisions. There is no guarantee of finding remains and immediate and long-term health and safety risks are real and cannot be ignored,” the spokesperson said in an email sent on July 20.