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A protest camp at Brady Road Resource Management Facility, where the body of 33-year-old Linda Mary Beardy of Lake St. Martin First Nation was discovered, in Winnipeg on April 4, 2023.SHANNON VANRAES/Reuters

Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew says he is confident a search for the remains of First Nations women at a landfill north of Winnipeg will begin by the end of this year while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government will be a partner in this work.

Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Kinew stated their plans at a joint news conference in Winnipeg on Thursday, where more than $633-million was announced for health care funding. Their remarks on the landfill were made after a question was posed by a journalist at the news conference.

“These are families whose loved ones are victims of what’s alleged to be one of the worst crimes in our province’s history,” Mr. Kinew said.

“We are going to search the landfill at Prairie Green. We are going to work with the families along the way and Indigenous leadership, in this case, namely the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.”

For more than a year, there has been a push to search the Prairie Green Landfill, north of Winnipeg, for the remains of 39-year-old Morgan Harris and 26-year-old Marcedes Myran. The women were both members of Long Plain First Nation, an Ojibway and Dakota community located in the Central Plains Region of Manitoba. A man alleged to be a serial killer is now facing murder charges in connection with their deaths.

Melissa Robinson, a cousin of Ms. Harris, said Thursday she was pleased to hear Mr. Kinew and Mr. Trudeau’s public commitments to a search.

“They’ve got to follow through – you can’t go back on this now,” Ms. Robinson said in an interview. “We won’t let them. We’re not stopping, and they know that. They know we’re not going anywhere.”

Ms. Robinson said there will be a meeting planned for later this month with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), where they hope to sit down with representatives from all levels of government to firm up more details about the plan, particularly around funding.

“They know how it can be done,” Ms. Robinson said. “We just need the money now.”

Last month, AMC and leadership with the Long Plain First Nation announced the completion of a report on a search of the landfill. AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick has said the report marked a crucial step toward searching the landfill and that it addressed concerns about a search.

Ms. Merrick issued a statement on Thursday calling for both levels of government to “respect a family-first, trauma-informed process.” She said AMC has been waiting to hear next steps after the report was sent to both levels of government at the end of January.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak said she welcomes Mr. Kinew’s optimism that the excavation of the Prairie Green landfill could begin later this year in search of the remains of missing First Nations women.

Mr. Trudeau said Wednesday that he has met with the families of the women and that Ottawa will be there to ensure that they get healing, closure and justice. Ottawa has previously announced $740,000 for work to determine the scope of the landfill search.

“The federal government will be there as a partner, as I promised to the Premier when he first got elected last year,” Mr. Trudeau said. “We will be there to do our part as well because all Canadians expect it.”

The Manitoba Premier has previously said he wants the landfill searched in 2024. Mr. Kinew also raised the need to search the landfill during the election campaign that resulted in an NDP majority government in Manitoba.

After Mr. Kinew’s electoral success, family and supporters of Ms. Harris and Ms. Myran celebrated his win and pledge to search the site.

The former Progressive Conservative government in Manitoba said a search would be exceedingly challenging and pointed to safety risks.

Last summer, then-premier Heather Stefanson said that based on a review of the situation, the province has made “the difficult decision that such a search is not viable.” She also said the integrity of the pending legal proceedings against the alleged killer was an “ever-present consideration here in Manitoba.”

The Progressive Conservatives campaigned against the search, including through ads, and lost the subsequent election.

Jeremy Anthony Michael Skibicki, 35, faces four counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of Ms. Harris and Ms. Myran, as well as the killings of 24-year-old Rebecca Contois and an unidentified woman Indigenous leaders have referred to as “Buffalo Woman.” He pleaded not guilty and is expected to stand trial in April.

Police have said they believe Buffalo Woman was Indigenous and likely in her mid-20s and have shown photos of a jacket with striped lining that they believe she wore. Her identity and whereabouts are unknown.

The families of Ms. Harris and Ms. Myran spent the spring and summer of 2022 looking for the missing women, before police revealed in December of that year that they believed the women had been killed.

Mr. Skibicki was arrested in May, 2022, after Ms. Contois’s partial remains were found in a garbage bin outside an apartment building in Winnipeg. Additional remains were later discovered at a local dump known as the Brady Road landfill.

Ms. Robinson said Thursday if the government’s commitment does not transform into a concrete plan, including a timeline and funding, then family and supporters would revive their protest efforts. She noted that while there is an injunction against a blockade at the Brady Road landfill, in Winnipeg – where protesters camped out as part of their push for a search – “there is nothing stopping us from going to Prairie Green.”

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