Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Compassion for grieving family

Landfill workers prepare ceremonial site for Nepinaks

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The stench on the hill where Tanya Nepinak is thought to be buried was faint Tuesday afternoon.

When the wind blows the wrong way in the Brady Road Landfill, the reek from animal carcasses dumped in a nearby pit can sting your eyes. When it's hot, the smell lingers, thick and choking.

It was sultry the night the slain woman's relatives gathered last week to sing an honour song, offer tobacco and hope she would be brought back up from the layers of foulness. Those gathered prayed police Chief Keith McCaskill would agree to search the dump for the missing woman's body.

"It was awful," says Nepinak's sister Gail. "We just want her out of there. This shouldn't be her final resting place."

Nepinak's clan is taking extreme measures to extricate her from her shroud of filth. They brought healing elders with them the first time they gathered at the dump. Now they're searching for "gifted elders" to visit the site, hoping to pinpoint her exact location.

It's a long shot, but they're long past desperate.

"We're hoping an elder could sense where she could be," Gail Nepinak says. "We don't want to take the city's, the government's time and money. We just want her found."

She knows the idea of an elder with psychic abilities will be preposterous to many. She only cares about getting her sister out of the ground.

Last week, McCaskill announced police would undertake a massive search for Nepinak's body. He said the search would likely cost more than $500,000, could take several months and has less than a five per cent chance of success.

A chorus of criticism arose, with suggestions from some it is a waste of taxpayers' dollars. It's thought Nepinak is buried under eight metres of garbage.

The digging hasn't begun. The family believes it will start next week.

Standing on the hill where she's likely buried, smoothed now and covered in a layer of fresh gravel, finding the remains seems an impossible task. Stakes bearing pink ribbons mark the dates where specific loads were dumped. There's a flurry of pink fluttering.

A bulldozer works tirelessly just outside the perimeter of the search site. Even in this sombre site, the avails of consumerism continue to be buried.

Searchers will have to painstakingly look for clues to let them know they're in the right place. It could be as small as a tattered grocery receipt with a Sept. 12 date.

There has been unexpected compassion on this tough journey. When the family arrived for their first ceremony, they found the ground prepared for them. Elder Billie Schibler was moved to see a manicured area where she could spread her shawl. A circle of topsoil was laid with an inner circle of rock to represent a sacred ceremonial site.

"On the perimeter of this area, they had placed large flower planters, which they had carried up the hill," Schibler says. "My spirit is still so humbled by this gesture of kindness. When I inquired of the city worker as I was leaving, this very gentle man stated 'It's the least we can do. We have daughters, too.' "

"These are people with no investment other than they're parents, they're Winnipeggers."

The city refuses to release the names of the workers. Landfill staff was not allowed to speak to the media Tuesday.

Will the searchers find Tanya Nepinak's remains? In a larger sense, that's not really what this is about.

"It's the right thing to do," McCaskill said when he announced the search. "If this were your daughter, what would you expect? The whole idea is to search the best we possibly can to bring some closure to the family... We have to do as much as we possibly can to recover the remains."

Golden fields are visible from the hill where Tanya Nepinak is thought to be buried. Soon enough, they'll be swallowed up by new housing developments. Before that day, before new owners build another hill with their refrigerator boxes and refuse, the Nepinaks want back what was taken from them.

Like the worker said, we all have daughters.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2012 A3

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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