‘Shouldn’t have to be doing this’
Daughters of slain Indigenous woman help create display at landfill to fight for ‘stolen’ lives
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After attaching red dresses to a chain-link security fence at Brady Road landfill Sunday, Morgan Harris’s daughters took a step back and lamented the need to make such a powerful display.
Cambria and Kera Harris were part of a group that began putting up 101 dresses, including one that is three metres tall and one metre wide, to raise awareness about the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.
“I feel very disappointed and sad because I shouldn’t have to be doing this,” said Kera Harris, while people attached the larger dress to a gate following a traditional ceremony.
“It makes me angry,” added Cambria Harris. “These dresses, there should be women wearing them. These lives, they’re stolen. What we’re seeing today is an ongoing crisis across Canada.”
Their 39-year-old mother is one of four Indigenous women believed to have been slain by an alleged serial killer in Winnipeg last year.
The other women are Rebecca Contois, 24, Marcedes Myran, 26, and an unidentified victim since named Buffalo Woman by Indigenous elders.
An Indigenous-led committee is studying the feasibility of searching the Brady Road and Prairie Green landfills for the remains of Harris, Myran, Buffalo Woman and others who may be at the sites.
Some of Contois’s remains were found at Brady Road, located on the city’s southern limits, during a search by Winnipeg police in June.
Red dresses have become a symbol of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and there is now a national Red Dress Day every May.
Cambria Harris said the 101 dresses that are being added to the fence at Brady Road are a “mere fraction” of the number of women and girls who’ve disappeared or been killed.
“Indigenous women in Canada are not safe, and it’s been statistically shown over and over again that we have a much higher rate of being murdered than non-Indigenous peoples,” she said. “I know a lot hate hearing that, but Indigenous women, specifically in Canada, have a bigger target on their backs, making them more visible and vulnerable to those who prey on them.”
Members of the group said the issue of MMIWG2S+ affects everyone in society, and their goal is to make their communities safer.
“I don’t want these women’s deaths to be in vain. I want to see change,” said Kera Harris. “These families — my family — don’t deserve this. They shouldn’t have to fight for equality.”
Wanting to honour her mother and help, she was making her first visit to a camp, called Camp Morgan, that has been set up outside the landfill for almost a month.
“Seeing all these dresses, it’s incredible to see how much support we have,” she said.
The Harris siblings said it’s time for governments to listen to MMIWG2S+ families and advocates, and take them seriously.
“Our communities have to come together over and over for the same heartbreaking situations, and it’s almost always when someone murders our women,” said Cambria Harris. “How many times must we protest, and how many more lives just be taken before society looks at us as human beings?
“All we are asking is for safety and respect for our Indigenous women, a basic human right not only Indigenous women but all people should have.”
The 101 dresses were made by Vancouver fashion designer Lilly-rose Babysky and her two daughters, who are eight and 10.
Babysky said she felt compelled to help and raise awareness about MMIWG2S+ after seeing news coverage about Contois, Harris, Myran and Buffalo Woman.
“I feel like what’s happening right now hurts all of society,” said Babysky, who is Indigenous and runs a fashion brand called PrettyEastVan. “This is not just an Indigenous issue. This is everybody’s issue.”
After deciding to sew red dresses, an elder encouraged her to make 100. A Vancouver store, Fabcycle, donated the fabric.
Babysky said it took five days of “consistent” sewing to complete the first 100 dresses, and five days to finish the larger version.
“It was very heavy, very emotional,” she said of the work.
Babysky was looking forward to seeing photos of the dresses on display.
“I feel like it’s going to be powerful,” she said in a phone interview from Vancouver before the event.
Police began investigating the alleged serial killings in May, when partial remains belonging to Contois were found in a garbage bin in North Kildonan.
On Dec. 1, police announced they believe Harris, Myran and Buffalo Woman were killed by the same suspect.
Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder.
Police believe the remains of Harris and Myran were deposited at the privately-owned Prairie Green Landfill just north of Winnipeg. Harris’s relatives believe her remains could be at Brady Road.
After an assessment, police concluded a search of Prairie Green wasn’t feasible, in part, due to the amount of waste dumped over a 34-day period before they learned remains may have been taken there.
The city halted operations at Brady Road, its only active landfill, when activists set up the camp and a blockade Dec. 18 to escalate calls for searches.
Operations resumed Jan. 6 after the city and activists reached a compromise.
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.