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Walking to Ottawa to demand justice

Courtesy Al Harrington

“Search the landfill.”

It’s a refrain that has been repeated for months at encampments where people’s lives revolve around the call for justice, yet it is still being met with inaction by the governments of Canada and Manitoba.

That’s why on September 18, the call was brought to at least 17 cities, with protests around the country demanding the government step up and search the Prairie Green landfill just north of Winnipeg.

The remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran, members of the Long Plain First Nation, are both believed to have been dumped at the site. The same man, Jeremy Skibicki, has been charged in both their murders as well as those of Rebecca Contois and Buffalo Woman – whose identity is unknown – whose partial remains were recovered from the nearby Brady Road landfill.

“There’s so much injustice for our people, still, ever since Canada was formed,” said Al Harrington. For him, the cause of demanding justice for Onkwehón:we who have been murdered – whose families have never gotten answers – is a searingly personal one.

His brother, Norman Pinesse, was murdered 30 years ago.

“We never got any closure from that,” said Harrington.

“Basically we don’t know if the culprits were caught or not. I think I was 16 at the time when I went back home to bury him. Ever since that, we kind of just moved forward. He’s been on my mind for the last few months,” he said.

Despite their efforts, his family has never gotten answers from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) about what happened.

So when Harrington learned of the rallies around the country, he decided to take the fight all the way to Parliament – on foot – leaving Kanesatake on Thursday. He even called his older sister to ask if he could share their brother’s story at the protest, noting that the story shows a pattern of institutional failures to recognize the value of Indigenous lives.

“I feel it’s a very, very important issue to talk about and to make awareness right across the nation. That is why I decided to go on this walk,” he said.

His children, Nation and Sage, accompanied him, along with their cousin MJ Larent.

“My kids heard about it, and they wanted to come along, and I asked them if they knew what exactly this was all about. They kind of said no, not really,” Harrington said. He believes issues such as this one need to be better addressed in local schools, but in the meantime he tried to take the opportunity to educate them.

“In those five days, I really got to talk with my two kids, along with their cousin, just about issues we still deal with every day and educate them about Camp Morgan and Camp Marcedes on what they’re doing, what the federal government is not doing,” he said.

“Nobody, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, none of our people deserves to be left in a landfill, any landfill.”

The family walked all the way past Hawkesbury before they began making use of the support car, driven by Denis le Sieur, but someone – usually Harrington – was on foot at all times as the car crawled. A sign in the back of the car raised awareness about their cause.

The car was also a source of protection as the family faced racism along the way.

“I told them we hold our heads up high. Don’t put it down,” said Harrington. “We don’t respond with hatred back to them either. That’s what they want.”

Le Sieur was motivated out of a desire to protect the family and help them in their desire to contribute to a cause he, too, feels passionately about.

“They’re like family to me, Al and the kids. To me it was very important to see these kids that wanted to do it and were willing to do it.”

The family also met their share of supporters, including two mayors.

“It was a nice experience to meet new people and the kindness that they have shown us,” said Sage, 13.

The walk wasn’t easy, especially that first day, but she is grateful for the experience she shared with her father.

“It meant a lot to me and my family when we walked there because my dad was telling us about what happened to these women and also what happened to my uncle,” she said.

The expedition was expensive, and Harrington, who raised some money for it, had to pay some costs out of pocket. However, the support of Kanehsata’kehró:non helped make the effort possible.

“I donated because I think what he’s doing is really great to bring awareness to these topics,” said Julia Kanathiiostha Lazore. “Also, I think he’s a great role model by getting the kids involved and showing them what it means to be active in our culture and community.”

She explained that she believes in the importance of passing down core values.

“In order for these young ones to grow up and become language teachers, faithkeepers, land defenders, cultural singers and dancers, etc., we need to implement this way of life at birth and through their childhood so they can carry on our traditions in their adulthood,” she said.

“I feel that we as Indigenous people, also as men, we have a role and responsibility to educate and to lead our children to a better future and a better way of speaking and standing up for injustices on our people,” said Harrington.

When Harrington’s family got to Parliament, they got the chance to meet the family of Morgan Harris.

“I told them I have been following Camp Morgan ever since day one that it started,” he said.

Harrington believes Indigenous people around the country need to unite around the push to search the landfill – the push for justice.

“I think that as Indigenous people, we still have a long ways to go to unite,” he said.

This article was originally published in print on Friday, September 22, in issue 32.38 of The Eastern Door.

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Marcus is an award-winning journalist and managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.

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Marcus is an award-winning journalist and managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.