As if looking for the most sure-fire way to prove that they do not value the lives of Indigenous women any more than they value garbage, the Canadian state is currently involved in a morbid game of political hot potato to avoid searching the Prairie Green Landfill in Manitoba for the bodies of three Indigenous women whom police believe were murdered and dumped there. Meanwhile, a blockade set up by protestors to demand the landfill be searched was ripped apart and taken away following a court-ordered injunction.
Brady blockade. Photo credit: Harrison Powder
All of this occurs at the same time as the federal government claims to be working hard to fulfill the calls for justice laid out in the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), while having only fulfilled two out of 231 in four years. This is the real meaning of ‘reconciliation’ under capitalism: politicians pretend to mourn the deaths of Indigenous women while doing everything possible to keep their bodies buried in a landfill.
Indifference all the way down
The women whose remains are missing are Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myron, and an unidentified victim named Buffalo Woman by local Indigenous leaders. They are three of four Indigenous women Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with murdering last year. The remains of the fourth woman, Rebecca Contois, were found in June 2022 at a different Winnipeg landfill.
Police stated in December 2022 that they believed Harris, Myron and potentially Buffalo Woman were all discarded at Prairie Green Landfill that May. But according to them, too much time had passed to make the search feasible, so they refused to look.
Indigenous rights’ activists began protesting outside the landfill that winter, and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs commissioned a feasibility report to investigate whether the search really was as hopeless as the police argued. The commission, co-chaired by two forensic specialists, concluded that a successful search was indeed feasible, putting the lie to the police’s statements and exposing their cruel indifference.
But there was even more indifference to come. On July 5, Conservative Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson announced her refusal to fund the search, saying, “Based on the report, we cannot knowingly risk Manitoba workers’ health and safety for a search without a guarantee.” Manitoba Grand Chief Cathy Merrick correctly called this “bullshit.” The feasibility report clearly explains how the search could be conducted with minimal risk to the workers involved. But as it turns out, Stefanson didn’t even read the report before completely brushing off its results to the victims’ grieving loved ones.
In response to Stefanson’s lies, experts involved in the feasibility report reiterated that the search could be done safely and provided past examples. In 2021, Toronto Police recovered the body of a suspected murder victim from a landfill eight months after the remains were left there. In 2002, a 14 acre B.C. pig farm owned by serial killer Robert Pickton was searched, revealing the remains or DNA of 33 women. The Prairie Green Landfill, in comparison, is only four acres.
There’s no doubt that if the victims were white, Stefanson would do whatever it took to find their bodies. But because they are Indigenous, she writes off their deaths as acceptable. As Melissa Robin, cousin of victim Morgan Harris, said, “The premier is now showing us that because of the colour of our skin, she won’t do it.”
While the federal government has been urging Stefanson to act, and the minister of Crown-Indigenous relations has even called Stefanson “heartless,” they refuse to do anything themselves. Indeed, Stefanson’s refusal to act is a real roadblock given that landfills are provincial jurisdiction. But how can we believe that the federal government is genuinely interested in making sure the search happens, when they have not made any significant progress on solving the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women four years after the national inquiry began? They are only leaning on bureaucratic questions of jurisdiction to pass the buck, meanwhile doing nothing to solve the underlying crisis.
Indigenous women under capitalism—discarded in life and death
However, the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women goes deeper than any level of government. It reflects the fact that Canadian capitalism was established through the bloody process of colonization, the effects of which continue today. The poverty, marginalization and intergenerational trauma stemming from colonialism have made Indigenous women some of the most oppressed and vulnerable people in society today.
As we have stated elsewhere:
[…] nearly half of all Indigenous women in Canada live below the poverty line. When someone’s economic conditions are desperate, it forces them to do things they otherwise wouldn’t, like stay in an abusive relationship, hitchhike, turn to prostitution, and so on. This desperation makes them more vulnerable to violence. Indigenous women frequently become “easy targets” for predators while the state does nothing to fix the situation.
The role of capitalism is demonstrated with tragic clarity in the deaths of Harris, Myron, Contois and Buffalo Woman. Their murderer, Skibicki, was a far-right white supremacist and misogynist known for frequenting homeless shelters and soup kitchens and inviting the women he met there back to his apartment. An acquaintance of Skibicki says he was “looking for the absolute most vulnerable,” and under Canadian capitalism, that typically means Indigenous women.
This is how capitalism perpetuates the crisis of MMIWG. Having spent centuries pushing Indigenous women into the outermost margins of society, the ruling class hopes the disproportionate violence they face will be overlooked so they can shrug off responsibility. The money is certainly there to search the Prairie Green Landfill. $184 million, the maximum estimated cost of the search, is a modest sum in a country as wealthy as Canada. The state always has billions to spend on corporate handouts or prolonging the war in Ukraine, for example. But searching the landfill would set the precedent that Indigenous lives matter, and that’s why Stefanson doesn’t want to do it—after this recognition of basic human dignity, what’s next? Clean drinking water, or the protection of land rights? This would be too much for the ruling class, who would rather spend public funds lining billionaires’ pockets.
As well, it’s possible that the search would reveal the remains of many more Indigenous women than the three in question. At least 4000 Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing in the past thirty years. Cambria Harris, Morgan Harris’ daughter, believes this may be part of the reason Stefanson doesn’t want to do the search. It wouldn’t be the first time the Canadian state has tried such a thing—the Catholic church is still in possession of residential school documents, and the government is in no hurry to have them released. The exposure of mass graves connected to residential schools created unprecedented outrage at Indigenous oppression among the whole working class, which the Canadian state surely doesn’t want a repeat of. Despite their weepy speeches and endless apologies, it is clear that the ruling class is more concerned with covering up the atrocities committed against Indigenous people than actually helping them.
Harris says her mother “had been homeless all her life and [was] treated and discarded of like trash… quite literally.” Similarly, Marcedes Myran’s sister, Jorden, says, “Our women don’t belong in the landfill, they belong to have a grave. They’re not trash.” This is the reality of Canadian capitalism—Indigenous women are treated as disposable in both life and death.
Organized labour must join the fight: Search the landfills! Revolution, not reconciliation!
While the Prairie Green Landfill blockade has been torn down, protestors have resolved to continue demonstrating at the site, and are planning to set up a new blockade outside the Human Rights Museum in order to keep calling for the landfill to be searched. One activist, Harrison Powder, said, “We will blockade railways, we will blockade highways. We will do whatever we have to do to keep this in the news, to keep this cause alive. This is bigger than us.”
This shows an inspiring level of determination, but Indigenous activists must be backed up with solidarity from the broader movement, especially organized labour, if they are to be successful. The dismantling of the Prairie Green barricade proves that the government is able to forcefully suppress even the most determined activists if their numbers are too few. But if organized labour joined the demonstrations and the blockade, the government would have a harder time repressing them.
Showing a positive step forward, The Canadian Union of Provincial Employees, which represents the workers at the landfill, has released a statement saying they’d be willing to provide labour and expertise to a landfill search. Several other unions have released statements of support. But now these statements must be backed up with action. The landfill workers could force the hand of the government by themselves refusing to work until the search is done.
Decades of atrocities against Indigenous people have proven that no amount of well-worded arguments or moral appeals will make the ruling class care about Indigenous lives. It’s time for the labour movement to speak in the language of hard demands, using mass protests, blockades, and strikes, to demand an immediate search for the bodies of Myron, Harris and Buffalo Woman.
But it’s not enough merely to bring home the bodies of women who’ve already been lost, important as this is—we need to end the capitalist system which led to their deaths and the deaths of thousands of other Indigenous women. There can be no reconciling with a ruling class that believes Indigenous women belong in landfills. Revolution is the only answer.