Manitoba Indigenous communities call for change in light of murder charges

Members of Winnipeg’s Indigenous communities are reeling after news of three additional murders involving Indigenous women, but are also looking for ways to respond to the tragedy.

Jeremy Skibicki — already in custody in connection with the killing of Rebecca Contois earlier this year — was handed three more counts of first-degree murder Thursday.

Read more: Jeremy Skibicki to plead not guilty on all charges in 1st-degree murder case: lawyer

Sam Harris, the director of healing and wellness programs with Indigenous organization Ka Ni Kanichick, told 680 CJOB’s The Start it’s OK to feel anger with the news.

“We spent some time with the community yesterday, and we did what we could do to support the families and to support those who are affected and impacted,” Harris said.

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“It’s just such a heartbreaking thing to have to constantly have these gatherings and constantly have to come together as a community to mourn.”

Click to play video: 'Family and community gathered to mourn 2nd victim in alleged serial homicide case'

Family and community gathered to mourn 2nd victim in alleged serial homicide case

Harris said while there are always people and organizations willing to help, many don’t have the capacity to support everyone impacted by this news, as the need can be overwhelming.

“We have a lot of folks out there who are wanting to do that work and are looking for ways to support these programs and support organizations that are doing that hard work.

“But there isn’t always that sustainability for those programs to keep doing that work … and to keep supporting the families and supporting the individuals and supporting those programs that are providing safe and culturally relevant support.”

Read more: Ottawa is failing in protection of Indigenous women and girls: federal minister

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Harris said she feels the impact at home and is already teaching her six-year-old son to do his part as he grows up to keep women and girls safe from harm.

“I have a young man that I’m raising right now. He’s six years old … and I’m having conversations with him about how he can keep our Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit community safe,” she said, “and (teaching him) what is his role in becoming a young man in this world, and how does he have to contribute to the safety our people?”

A tear rolls down the cheek of Bernadette Smith, from Winnipeg, as she talks about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women inquiry in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Manitoba MLA Bernadette Smith is no stranger to the trauma these families are facing.

Smith has dealt with it first-hand — in the case of her own sister, Claudette Osborne, who has been missing since 2008 — and told 680 CJOB this feeling has become far too common among Indigenous people.

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“We have to (do more). We can’t continue this way. We’re losing too many people, and these are people’s loved ones,” Smith said.

“I want Manitobans to think, ‘what if that was your daughter? What if that was your niece?’

“We need to wake up and stop normalizing this and get involved.”

Click to play video: 'Police trying to identify unknown homicide victim'

Police trying to identify unknown homicide victim

In a statement Thursday, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee said Manitobans need to work together to prevent similar crimes from happening in the future.

“These women were someone’s daughter, sister or mother. It’s tragic and catastrophic for the affected families,” Settee said.

“Our community has a big hole that has been left behind by acts of violence I cannot understand. I am asking for our community to support the families of the victims in any way that they can.

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“As the Grand Chief of MKO, I am committed to supporting First Nation women, girls, two-spirit and gender-diverse people. Our women are sacred and deserve to live without fear of being harmed.”

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