Content warning: This story contains details about Canada’s epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Please be gentle with your spirit and read with care.
Indigenous advocates in “Vancouver” say they are ready and willing to travel to “Winnipeg” to help search a landfill that’s believed to contain the bodies of two women taken by an alleged serial killer.
During a vigil in Grandview Park on Sunday, dozens of people came together to mourn the deaths of Rebecca Contois, Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran and the unidentified Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe (Buffalo Woman).
At the event, the relations of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) spoke about the massive failures of police when dealing with their lost loved ones — with some offering to step in to do the jobs that officers won’t.
On the Downtown Eastside of “Vancouver,” Indigenous groups are already involved in enacting searches for missing women — efforts which have been led by the groups Butterflies in Spirit and the Crazy Indians Brotherhood.
‘We’ve got to figure out ways to help one another’
Lorelei Williams — who founded Butterflies in Spirit to commemorate the victims of serial killer Robert Pickton and other MMIWG — said in general police aren’t doing their jobs correctly, which is why her group scours the Downtown Eastside searching for missing women.
Williams said she personally is willing to go to the Prairie Green landfill north of Winnipeg, where the bodies of Harris and Myran are believed to be located, to search.
The Winnipeg Police Service has been under fire after stating it would not search the landfill for various reasons including the amount of time that’s already passed, the conditions at the facility and officer safety.
“When (police) make up excuses as to why they aren’t doing their jobs properly, this kills us,” Williams said.
“This lets predators know that they can target us and get away with it. … We have our Indigenous communities across Canada willing to do this search on their own without all the resources that they have.”
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said even though there was a national inquiry into MMIWG, the deaths of Indigenous women have continued without reprieve.
“The (police) and the government of Canada are not accountable nor are they going to do anything,” she said.
“When this was happening here with Pickton farms and all of the atrocities that happened here, we had collective support across the nation and across Turtle Island and that’s what we have to do for the Winnipeg serial murders.”
Wilson said she wants to see a united voice of support and solidarity for the “Winnipeg” families coming from the West Coast.
“If a B.C. delegation gets put together to help with the landfill search, I think that would be important,” she said.
“We’d send the best we can from B.C. to help in Winnipeg. … We’ve got to wake up and stop this from happening, we’ve got to figure out ways to help one another.”
The Winnipeg Police Service has charged Jeremy Skibicki with first degree murder for the deaths of the four women, believed to have been killed between March and May.
Meanwhile, in B.C., families are still reeling after the bodies of Indigenous women Tatyanna Harrison, Noelle O’Soup, Chelsea Poorman and Kwemcxenalqs Manuel-Gottfriedson were all found in the “Vancouver” area in the spring and summer of this year.
At the vigil, Natasha Harrison shared that when her daughter Tatyanna went missing earlier this year, she had to scour the streets on her own — finding support from the Indigenous community including Butterflies in Spirit but not from the Vancouver Police Department (VPD).
“Wherever you are, shame on you,” she said to the VPD, which apparently had at least one representative present in the crowd.
“I begged you to search the Vancouver streets and you ignored my pleas so I went and searched myself which is not a unique case, this happens time and time again.”
‘Lied to, ignored and laughed at’
Olivia Louie, a cousin of Noelle O’Soup, spoke about how the body of her relative was found in an apartment this past summer, after going missing while she was in the “care” of the provincial Ministry of Children and Family Development.
“She was taken from her family, her parents, her siblings and her community,” Louie said between tears, while Williams stood behind her holding a cedar bough.
“For weeks after her disappearance, Indigenous community members and residents of the building had approached the Vancouver Police Department with complaints and sightings of Ellie in that building. All of these complaints went ignored.”
Louie said that the entire policing institution “is a lie” and officers only decide who to listen to based on race and economic status.
“They exist to protect and serve, but they do not protect or serve us,” she said.
“During the search for our missing and murdered relative, my family has experienced being lied to, ignored and laughed at by the Vancouver Police Department. These aren’t unique experiences.”
The family of Kwemcxenalqs has also spoken out about their negative experiences with the VPD during their search for their lost loved one, and released a list of recommendations.
Louie called for international support given that colonial governments have not sufficiently addressed the MMIWG crisis — adding that, despite attempts at removal, Indigenous Peoples are still here and practicing cultures that “Canada” tried to erase.
“This genocide is not a past, historic event. It is happening right now, and it is intentional,” she said.
Natasha Harrison said she is sending prayers to the families who are mourning lost loved ones, and stands with the community impacted by the alleged murders in “Winnipeg.”
“I hope I live to see … this system change,” she said.
“I am saddened to hear the silence throughout Canada. I want to see 10,000 more people standing here, screaming at the injustice.”