Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew apologized Thursday to the families of two slain First Nations women whose remains are believed to be in a Winnipeg-area landfill for what he called being reduced to a "political prop" by the former government during the recent provincial election.
Kinew met with the families of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran to reset the relationship between the two families and the government.
"The government of Manitoba is not liable for what a political party does or what politicians do during an election campaign," Kinew said to the families ahead of the meeting.
"As the premier of Manitoba, I share the same moral space as my predecessor, the former premier of Manitoba. Because of that I wanted to take this time to say sorry, to apologize for those things that never should have happened."
Former premier Heather Stefanson and the previous Tory government opposed a search of the Prairie Green Landfill and highlighted their refusal during the provincial election campaign.
The Tories took out ads, including large billboards, promising they would "stand firm" in opposing a search due safety concerns outlined in a feasibility study funded by the federal government. The report found a search would be possible but that toxic materials could pose a risk to workers.
Before forming government last week, Kinew said a New Democrat government would search the landfill but stopped short of providing a funding commitment.
Donna Bartlett, the grandmother of Myran, said she was relieved to hear the new premier apologize.
"It's been a long year and a half. To hear that from one of the premiers is absolutely amazing, and I thank him," she told reporters after the meeting.
Kinew, along with cabinet ministers Nahanni Fontaine, Bernadette Smith and Matt Wiebe, met with the families and First Nations leaders for more than 90 minutes.
Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson said the meeting provided a different dynamic than previous conversations with the provincial government.
"Being able to sit in a circle, compared to previous meetings where we're sitting across the table from one another, it's a very different energy," said Wilson.
"It's a beautiful working relationship that I see happening right now with the provincial government."
Wilson added the message she took away from the meeting was that Kinew and his government are committed to working with the families and leadership to ensure that the landfill is searched.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said the families are "very optimistic" that the work will be done.
"They're the most resilient people I've ever encountered ... they've never once backed down."
The families are working to complete a report within 90 days to further assess the scope of the search after receiving $740,000 from the federal government earlier this month.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree has said more research is needed to figure out how a search could be done.
Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Harris, Myran and two others — Rebecca Contois, whose partial remains were found in a different landfill last year, and an unidentified woman Indigenous leaders are calling Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 26, 2023.