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AFN calls for independent inquiry into killings of four Indigenous women in Winnipeg

National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak gives her opening address at the Assembly of First Nations annual general assembly in Montreal, Tuesday, July 9, 2024. Chiefs at the Assembly of First Nations annual general assembly passed a resolution calling for an independent inquiry into the killings of three First Nations women in Manitoba. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi

OTTAWA — The Assembly of First Nations wants Manitoba to hold an independent inquiry into the killings of four Indigenous women in Winnipeg.

War Lake First Nation Chief Betsy Kennedy put forward a resolution at the AFN's annual general assembly in Montreal on Wednesday calling on Manitoba's lieutenant-governor to establish a commission of inquiry to assess the police and provincial response to the case.

Chiefs voted in favour of the resolution, which was also supported by the families of the victims of Jeremy Skibicki.

Skibicki admitted to killing Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran, Rebecca Contois and an unidentified woman an Indigenous grassroots community refers to as Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.

A Manitoba judge is expected to deliver a verdict in the criminal case on Thursday. While Skibicki confessed to the killings, his lawyers argued he should be found not criminally responsible due to mental illness.

Countrywide protests were held over the case, which dates back to 2022, demanding that a landfill be searched for the remains of two of the victims.

The former progressive conservative government in Manitoba refused to fund the search, saying it was too expensive, and it became a major issue in last fall's provincial election.

During the campaign, NDP Premier Wab Kinew promised he would fund the search. His party won the election, and the search is to begin this coming fall.

The AFN inquiry resolution that passed Wednesday said First Nations commissioners should be the ones to carry out the inquiry and evaluate those search efforts.

It also called for national chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak to write a letter to Manitoba's lieutenant-governor in support of the inquiry, and for the AFN to support the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs' proposed scope of the inquiry.

The proposed scope would ensure protocols are followed to preserve evidence. It would also seek to investigate how systemic biases could have potentially influenced case outcomes.

Morgan Harris's daughter Cambria Harris said a "sad, sad precedent" was set when governments refused to search the landfill where her mother is suspected to be buried.

"Two years ago, I sat here at the AFN and I was begging and crying for all levels of government to find and search for my mother," she said.

"And now, I can finally say that we're doing it."

When the resolution passed, Harris and other family members of the women hugged, smiling through their tears.

The families of the women are expected to speak at the assembly Thursday after the judge issues the verdict in the case.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 10, 2024.

Alessia Passafiume, The Canadian Press

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