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Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew at an Economic Club of Canada luncheon in Toronto on March 4.Laura Proctor/The Globe and Mail

The Manitoba and federal governments will each commit $20-million to an effort to search a Winnipeg-area landfill where police believe the bodies of at least two First Nations women were dumped by a serial killer.

Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew held a private meeting in downtown Winnipeg on Friday to discuss the funding with the victims’ family members, who along with First Nations leaders and advocates have been demanding such a search for more than a year. Also present at the meeting were Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Manitoba Families Minister Nahanni Fontaine, Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham and representatives from Ottawa.

The arrival of the funding marks a step toward locating the remains of Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran and an unidentified woman whom Indigenous elders have named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, meaning Buffalo Woman. Winnipeg police allege all three women were murdered in 2022 by Jeremy Skibicki.

He has also been charged with the first-degree murder of Rebecca Contois. Her partial remains were recovered from a different landfill, and from a garbage bin outside a Winnipeg apartment building.

“I can’t commit to any of these families that this search is going to be successful, but I can 100-per-cent guarantee that we’re going to try,” Mr. Kinew said in an interview with The Globe and Mail on Thursday. The Premier did not speak publicly after the Friday meeting.

Police believe the bodies of Ms. Harris, 39, and Ms. Myran, 26, both from Long Plain First Nation, were disposed of at the privately owned Prairie Green Landfill, a garbage dump north of Winnipeg, 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, 35 at the time, was arrested after 24-year-old Ms. Contois’s partial remains were found in May. She was a band member of Crane River First Nation. Buffalo Woman’s remains have yet to be located. Police believe she was also Indigenous.

Over the past year, the revelations about the killings ignited a national outcry. Rallies and protests were held across Canada to support a search of the Prairie Green Landfill.

As Manitobans went to the polls during the provincial election last fall, the Progressive Conservative government said it would not support a search. Heather Stefanson, the premier at the time, called such an effort too dangerous and costly. The party paid for billboards, ran radio spots and bought newspaper ads promoting its opposition to “the landfill dig.”

Mr. Kinew’s New Democratic Party, which swept to victory in October, promised to locate the remains of the women if elected. Six months later, Mr. Kinew said, his government is making good on that pledge.

“We have a responsibility to all Manitobans,” he said. He acknowledged the difficulty of getting multiple parties to agree on how to allocate funding for the search while also being “fiscally careful and taking care of the province’s books.”

“Above all else, it’s me wanting our province to be one that doesn’t leave anyone behind,” he said. “I’ve personally smoked the pipe with the grandmothers, cousins and daughters of these women. To me, it goes beyond politics at that level. It’s a sacred commitment. It’s a covenant.”

Mr. Kinew said the $20-million from Manitoba will be accounted for in the provincial budget, to be released on April 2.

The cost of the search had previously been estimated at between $84-million and $184-million in different feasibility studies and planning reports. Even with funding that amounts to less than half of the low end of that range, Mr. Kinew said he is “confident that every cubic metre for that section of Prairie Green can be searched.”

The Premier said he is not yet prepared to share a timetable for beginning the search. “We know that a compassionate search has to be done right, and so, as a result, I think it’s too soon for us to talk about a timeline,” he said.

Matthieu Perrotin, press secretary to federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Gary Anandasangaree, confirmed that the federal government will match Manitoba’s funding for the landfill search. “We remain committed as we work with all partners towards an approach that will bring closure and healing for the families and community members,” he wrote in an e-mailed statement.

Ms. Harris’s daughter, Cambria Harris, who filed a human-rights complaint in January against Mr. Kinew’s government over delays in allocating funding to the search, said she finally feels hopeful that her mother’s remains will be found.

“It shows us and everyone else that our Indigenous peoples are worth it, that they are loved, and that they are worth searching for,” she said after attending the meeting with the government officials.

Ms. Merrick, the Manitoba grand chief, described the funding as bittersweet. “It’s a sense of relief,” she said. “And yet, work needs to be done. It will be a long, difficult road ahead.”

Earlier this month, after hundreds of protesters joined First Nations leaders at the Manitoba legislature to demand action on the search from the province, Mr. Kinew announced $500,000 to provide support for the victims’ families.

Mr. Perrotin said Ottawa will also provide $200,000 to complement a previous allocation from the Manitoba government toward culturally sensitive mental-health support during Mr. Skibicki’s trial.

Mr. Skibicki, who has pleaded not guilty, is expected to face a jury on April 29.

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