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Terrace protesters demand Manitoba search landfill for Indigenous remains

Marchers nationwide join the call, spotlighting the broader issue of MMIWG

Protesters across Canada took to the streets on Monday, demanding action from the Manitoba government. Their demand is specific — to finance the search for the remains of three Indigenous women believed to be buried in a Winnipeg landfill.

In Terrace, about a dozen individuals assembled outside the local RCMP detachment in solidarity, with the Tears to Hope Society organizing the Terrace demonstration, guiding marchers from the detachment down Eby Street and past the overpass, onto Greig Avenue and back.

Their demonstration echoed a national cry for justice, but they also highlighted a regional concern: the unsolved cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG), notably those that took place along the “Highway of Tears,” a 719-kilometre stretch of Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George.

Parallel protests transpired on the steps of the Manitoba legislative building in Winnipeg and Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The shared sentiment was palpable: the status quo isn’t good enough.

Gladys Radek, a prominent local activist who has dedicated years to championing the cause of missing and murdered Indigenous women and men, addressed the Terrace crowd. Her words weren’t just those of an advocate but of someone who has suffered personal loss.

“First and foremost, I’m a family member of several missing and murdered persons along the Highway of Tears,” she said.

This stretch became infamously known as the Highway of Tears because of the numerous Indigenous women and girls who went missing or were found murdered along its path. In just a few days, Radek will mark the somber 18-year anniversary of the disappearance of her niece, Tamara Chipman.

Her impassioned speech painted a haunting picture of the pain families, such as hers, endure daily. The question “where is she?” remains unanswered for too many Indigenous families across Canada.

Radek’s years-long activism has taken her across the country, from Ottawa to Winnipeg and beyond. She co-organized seven walks under the banners “Walk for Justice” and “Tears for Justice” to raise awareness.

Additionally, her vehicle, the “War Pony,” acts as a mobile tribute, adorned with photographs of the missing and murdered individuals, wrapped in brightly coloured duct tape.

Amidst the call for nationwide action, Radek’s speech also touched on the pressing issue in Winnipeg.

Last year, Winnipeg resident Jeremy Skibicki was arrested for the murder of Rebecca Contois, and later, for three other Indigenous women. In June 2022, Contois’ remains were discovered in a landfill, and experts believe the other victims may share a similar fate.

However, the government has yet to authorize a comprehensive search of the site, despite evidence supporting the feasibility of such an operation.

READ MORE: 5th Tears to Hope Relay Run raises awareness for missing, murdered in northwest B.C.

In December 2022, Radek was present at the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs meetings in Ottawa. There, she met families of the women believed to be in the landfill. The pain was evident, she said, as children grieved their missing mothers, reinforcing the tragedies of MMIWG and the ongoing trauma inflicted upon the next generation.

Radek ended her speech with a call to action, urging Canada to search the landfill and bring closure to the grieving families.

“No justice, no peace,” she proclaimed, a sentiment that echoed across the country.

A protestor at the Terrace rally, Birgitte Bartlett, poignantly asked, “[Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau, what would you do if it was one of your children in the landfill?”

As the march moved through Terrace’s streets, Radek made it clear that she’s waiting for the federal government to take definitive action. She believes the search at the landfill should have started long ago and the delay is a testament to systemic racism.

The call to action is clear: for the federal government to intervene and sponsor a thorough search of the landfill.

“If it was any other white girl in there, they would have dug her up a long time ago,” Radek emphasized.

Radek said this isn’t the first time she has heard about individuals being dumped in landfills.

“This country is filled with serial killers,” she said. “There’s even things around here that are happening and everyone’s hush-hush about it. It goes back to the lack of political will to want to do anything about it.

“There are families, even up here [in northwest B.C.], that haven’t heard anything about their missing or murdered loved ones for 20, 30, 40 years.”

“Our people can be pretty persistent,” Radek said. “In Winnipeg, I do understand that they are losing patience — and rightfully so since nine months to wait is a long time — and they know they’ve got the perpetrator in jail, but I don’t know what it’s going to take to have them search the landfill. Public pressure, or maybe some of the other ethnic groups standing with us? I don’t know.

“What’s the possibility that our girls are in landfills? It’s a pretty good possibility,” Radek continued. “We have a lot of women missing here that no one is talking about.

“You can’t help, but think about where the missing women could be.”

Viktor Elias joined the Terrace Standard in April 2023.

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