Sensationalizing alleged killers will not bring our missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls home

Sensationalizing alleged killers will not bring our missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls home


Sensationalizing alleged killers will not bring our missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls home's Profile

This column is an opinion by Nicole Murdock, a Cree and Anishinaabe mother, writer and university student. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

In my final semester of high school, I took an “interdisciplinary topics in science” class. While the class mostly involved watching reruns of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation during a time when it was very much still in its prime, I recall being tasked to write a research essay.

The subject matter? A serial killer of my choosing.

The person I chose to write about isn’t important, but I do remember how I felt as I began to learn about his victims. Looking back, I understand that this is where my discomfort with society’s sensationalization of the serial killer began.

In May 2022, the partial remains of 24-year-old Rebecca Contois were discovered in a garbage bin outside an apartment in Winnipeg.

Jeremy Skibicki was charged with first-degree murder in the days following the discovery. 

In June 2022, the Winnipeg Police Service announced they had located and identified additional remains of Contois, after conducting a search of the Brady Road landfill.

Months later, Skibicki was charged with an additional three counts of first-degree murder

Unlike Contois, however, the bodies of 39-year-old Morgan Harris, 26-year-old Marcedes Myran, and a fourth unidentified woman — whom Indigenous elders have given the name Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman, until she is identified — have not been found.

All three of the confirmed victims were Indigenous women, and police believe Buffalo Woman was as well.

The faces of three First Nations women are pictured side by side.
Left to right: Morgan Beatrice Harris, Marcedes Myran and Rebecca Contois. Winnipeg police said on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, they have charged Jeremy Skibicki with first-degree murder in the deaths of all three women, as well as a fourth, whom community members have named Buffalo Woman, because police do not know her identity. (Submitted by Cambria Harris, Donna Bartlett and Darryl Contois)

The charges against Skibicki have not been proven in court, but following the announcement, media outlets, politicians and local community advocates began referring to these homicides as the workings of an alleged serial killer.

We have opted to view acts of violence through the lens of entertainment.– Nicole Murdock

Regardless of whether these horrific acts of violence meet whatever threshold is required to categorize them as acts of a serial killer, this language diverts our attention from a far more urgent conversation. 

A sensationalized narrative

No single person is the sole threat to Indigenous women in Winnipeg.

The sensationalized narrative of a single violent individual who allegedly targeted Indigenous women fails to engage the public in conversations about the violence that missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people (MMIWG2S) experience within society at large.

The truth is that no single arrest will make Indigenous women safer.

I am not a “true crime” enthusiast. Sure, I listened to the first season of the Serial podcast along with everyone else, but over the years, it seems there has been a shift.

True crime has continued to expand its reach as an entertainment genre. Over the course of a semester, I lost count of the number of times the professor in my institutional corrections class rolled his eyes whenever one of my classmates brought up Netflix and Jeffrey Dahmer just for kicks. 

The sensationalization of alleged serial killers has obstructed the importance of telling untold stories. It has disrupted the responsibility we carry as a society to enact change and honour the victims who have been stolen from us.

Collectively, we have opted to view acts of violence through the lens of entertainment and as a result, we refuse to confront the violent realities located within our society.

As more details are brought to light through the investigation and murder trial, fascination with the city’s recently designated alleged serial killer will continue to grow. 

Indigenous women are sacred and we refuse to be buried beneath headlines.– Nicole Murdock

The list of MMIWG2S, however, has been growing for decades and our cries have gone unheard. Ambivalence abounds.

The deaths of Rebecca Contois, Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran and Buffalo Woman are all part of a much larger crisis that society has failed to take appropriate action on.

In Canada, Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people are intentionally targeted and disproportionately subjected to violence. We represent 28 per cent of women who are murdered, despite making up only four per cent of the population in Canada. We are 12 times more likely to be murdered or go missing than non-Indigenous women.

The rate at which we are murdered is more than seven times higher than that of non-Indigenous women (all of these stats are from the federal government’s website). With the largest urban Indigenous population in the country, Winnipeg sits at the centre of the MMIWG2S crisis.

The violent reality is that our greatest threats remain at large within society.

Rebranding the MMIWG2S crisis as a string of violent events for which a lone person is allegedly responsible will not bring our relatives home.

Collectively, we must reject the sensationalized narrative of alleged serial killers for clickbait and entertainment. 

Indigenous women are sacred and we refuse to be buried beneath headlines belonging to those who seek to destroy us.

This column is part of  CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor’s blog and our FAQ.

Support is available for anyone affected by details of this case. If you require support, you can contact Ka Ni Kanichihk’s Medicine Bear Counselling, Support and Elder Services at 204-594-6500, ext. 102 or 104, (within Winnipeg) or 1-888-953-5264 (outside Winnipeg).

Support is also available via Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Liaison unit at 1-800-442-0488 or 204-677-1648.

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