As Winnipeg residents come to grips with the horrifying news of four murdered Indigenous women at the hands of an alleged serial killer, mourners gathered Dec. 1 to remember the victims.
Many are also expressing their anger and frustration, as Indigenous women and girls in Winnipeg continue to fall victim to abuse, violence and murder.
“It’s sad that time and time again we have to keep coming back to gather for these sad circumstances,” an emotional Cambria Harris said at the sombre vigil in north Winnipeg.
“It shouldn’t have to be like this.”
The vigil was held to honour her mother, 39-year-old Morgan Harris, one of four alleged victims of a Winnipeg man police are now alleging is a serial killer.
“There were four women and those women had families, they were mothers, they were cousins, sisters, and they didn’t deserve that,” she said.
Jeremy Anthony Michael Skibicki, 35, of Winnipeg, was charged with first-degree murder in May in the slaying of 24-year-old Rebecca Contois, and at the time of the arrest, police said there was the possibility of there being further victims.
On Dec. 1, police made the grim announcement that Skibicki has now been charged with three more counts of first-degree murder, in connection to the deaths of two more Indigenous women and another thought to be Indigenous.
Harris and another victim — 26-year-old Marcedes Myran, both lived in Winnipeg — were members of the Long Plain First Nation and police believe there is another victim, but one they are still trying to identify.
During the vigil, NDP MLA Bernadette Smith, whose own sister Claudette Osborne has been missing since 2008, told the mourners that the continued violence against Indigenous women and girls in this city and province has to stop because she said if it does not, more women will die.
She also questioned why acts of violence and murder against Indigenous women have become “normalized.”
“I feel so angry, angry and lost, this has become so normalized,” Smith said. “Their families loved them, they were someone.”
She called on governments, but also society as a whole, to start taking the issue far more seriously because she said the harm it is causing goes well beyond women and girls and Indigenous communities.
“This affects all of us,” Smith said. “I keep saying that it’s not an Indigenous issue, it’s a human issue and we’re all human, and we all need to take care of one another and not turn a blind eye.
“We need to stand up for one another, and stand up against the injustices.”
And according to Smith, it is difficult for Indigenous women and girls in Winnipeg to feel any sense of safety or security recently, as they wonder who is behind the killing of Indigenous women.
“I don’t feel safe,” Smith said. “So many of our women are missing, so are there more serial killers out there, or are there lots of people getting away with murder? We have to solve this, and it’s going to take all of us.”
News of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is sadly not new in the city of Winnipeg recently, as police also confirmed back in the spring that three Indigenous women, including Contois, had all been killed in the span of just three weeks.
At the Manitoba legislature, after news of the murder charges was announced, NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine made an emotional plea for more services and resources for Indigenous people to prevent more from being abused or killed.
But like her NDP colleague Smith, Fontaine also called on society to take the issue far more seriously, because she said continued inaction will continue to have “deadly consequences.”
“There is not one day that our women do not get up to demand from governments and from every level of society to protect Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited,” Fontaine said during a Dec. 1 press conference.
“There are deadly consequences when we don’t prioritize the protection of Indigenous women and girls.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the government of Canada.