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Cambria Harris, daughter of Morgan Harris, speaks to family and supporters gathered at Portage and Main to protest the Manitoba government delays in searching landfills for missing Indigenous women, in Winnipeg, on March 8.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

Hundreds of protesters joined First Nations leaders at the Manitoba legislature to demand action from Premier Wab Kinew, who they say has failed to meet his pledge to locate the remains of the victims of an alleged serial killer.

Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, which represents 62 of the 63 First Nations in the province, said on Friday that Mr. Kinew has “only made empty promises” since his election last fall. The bodies of Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran and the unidentified woman that has been given the spirit name of Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, meaning Buffalo Woman, have yet to be found, she said.

She held hands for a round dance with throngs of Indigenous youth and elders, including Brokenhead Ojibway Nation Chief Gordon Bluesky. Drums echoed at the intersection of Portage and Main in downtown Winnipeg, as families of the victims and supporters donning red handprints on their faces brought 16 lanes of vehicle traffic to a halt before marching on the road to the legislative grounds.

“We have talked to the federal government. We have talked to the provincial government. And they have not responded,” Ms. Merrick said on the verge of tears, just steps away from the Premier’s office.

“Do you see the outcome when you don’t respond to First Nation leadership?” she asked, the crowd erupting in applause and chanting loudly to “bring out Wab.”

Later in the day, Mr. Kinew defended his government at a press conference in the legislature’s rotunda, but declined to provide details about his plans for the search. He did not specifically answer questions about commitments to funding and said his previous comments about being able to start the probe by the end of this year were inaccurately reflected in the media.

“I don’t know that we laid out a specific timeline before. We talked about aspirations,” he said.

“We are going to search the landfill. People can have confidence on us to deliver,” Mr. Kinew said. He said the province will allocate around $500,000 to give “emotional, cultural and spiritual” support for the victims’ families during the “difficult period” of the coming trial for Jeremy Skibicki, the man charged in the murders of the women.

The cost for the search has been estimated at between $90-million and $180-million by different feasibility studies and planning reports.

Winnipeg police believe that Ms. Harris, 39, and Ms. Myran, 26, both from Long Plain First Nation, were killed before their bodies were disposed at the Prairie Green Landfill, a garbage dump north of the city, in the spring of 2022. Investigators came to that conclusion in June of that year, but did not share the details with the women’s families or the public until December, when they announced murder charges against Mr. Skibicki.

Mr. Skibicki was also charged in the killing of Buffalo Woman, who has not been located, and 24-year-old Rebecca Contois, a band member of Crane River First Nation. He was arrested after Ms. Contois’s partial remains were found in May, 2022, at a garbage bin outside an apartment building in Winnipeg. Additional remains of Ms. Contois were later discovered at the separate Brady Road Landfill in the southern outskirts of the city.

Mr. Skibicki has pleaded not guilty and his trial is scheduled to begin on April 29.

“It’s been a long, long fight trying to get my sister home,” said Jorden Myran at the protest. “We got Heather Stefanson out and then Wab Kinew came in. He has made promise after promise, and at this point has been all talk and no action.”

Cambria Harris, who recently filed a human-rights complaint against Mr. Kinew’s government over its delays in allocating funding, said the irony of holding this rally on International Women’s Day should be obvious.

“I don’t understand how these governments can celebrate our women and our diversity, when our women are still laying in landfills, in garbage dumps that remain gravesites to this day,” she said. “How are you okay with this?”

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