Family and friends offered prayers, songs and tobacco to honour Rebecca Contois, after remains recovered from the Brady Road landfill were confirmed to belong to the young First Nation woman.
Over 40 people attended a vigil at a home in Winnipeg’s Centennial community Wednesday night to show support for Contois’ family, including her grieving mother and sister. They placed long-stem red roses and votive candles around a photo of the 24-year-old.
"What happened to her, there was a sacred law that was broken," elder Geraldine ‘Gramma’ Shingoose told the vigil. "Hurting and harming our women is not OK. It’s going on too long."
On Tuesday, Winnipeg police said human remains discovered by investigators at the Brady Road landfill on June 14 belonged to Contois.
Police had combed through a large marked-off section at the landfill at the south end of the city for about two weeks.
Contois’ partial remains were found in a garbage container behind an apartment on Edison Avenue on May 16.
Two days later, police charged Jeremy Anthony Michael Skibicki, 35, with first-degree murder.
"My heart’s broken… I miss her," said Contois’ mother, who declined to provide her name. "I did a lot of crying. I did a lot of crying all of my life."
During the vigil friends and family comforted Contois’ mother, who sobbed behind heart-shaped glasses and a mask with the red hand print, signifying missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Family friend Darryl Contois played with the Thunderbirds drum group as vigil attendees approached Contois’ photo to add tobacco ties and roses to the memorial.
"She was a lovely person if you got given the chance to know her," Contois said.
"When you lose a loved one, it’s very hard inside here," he said, pointing to his heart, "it’s like a child wanting to cry and all you can do is hold them until they stop crying.
"That’s how a mother feels when they lose their child. It’s a crying that won’t stop."
Contois said he hopes the family will eventually find healing with the support, love and respect of the community.
"Each day is a reminder that a loved one can be taken and it needs to be stopped," he said.
The Winnipeg police homicide unit continues its investigation. Police have said there is a possibility there are other victims.
Skibicki is scheduled to appear in court June 27.
In a statement, Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said more must be done to end violence toward women and children and gender-diverse people, adding First Nation women, girls, and gender-diverse people disproportionately face tragic and life-threatening violence due to racism and colonization.
Contois was a member of O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation (Crane River), about 300 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg. At least three Indigenous women have been slain in the past two months in southern Manitoba.
"My prayers are with the family and loved ones of Rebecca as they navigate through this tragic loss," Daniels said. "To lose a relative is hard enough, and in this devastating and horrific way, healing will require that the entire community come together to help share the pain."
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.