The unidentified victim of an alleged serial killer in Canada has been given the name Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman, by grieving community members, amid growing fears that a woman who is believed to be Indigenous would remain nameless.
Last week, Winnipeg police charged Jeremy Skibicki in the deaths of three women. Two were named as Morgan Harris, 39, and Marcedes Myran, 26 of Long Plain First Nation, but the third woman has not been identified. Skibick had previously been charged in May in the killing of 24-year-old Rebecca Contois of O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation.
Police had canvassed the city in a bid to identify the fourth victim, they have made little progress.
“We don’t want somebody to be known as unidentified. For us, a life is sacred and we have to honour that,” Bernadette Smith, a provincial lawmaker whose sister Claudette Osborne, went missing 12 years ago, said at a vigil for the murdered women on Sunday evening. “When you go into a ceremony and you’re seeking a name, Buffalo Woman is often the name you’re given until they find your name.”
“The buffalo represents respect, and our people need to be respected, and the men out there need to respect our women,” Delores Daniels told the crowd gathered in the snow. In 2017, her 19-year-old daughter Serena McKay was killed on Sagkeeng First Nation and said Buffalo Woman was the spirit name given to her daughter.
Police said on Monday they would begin using the name Buffalo Woman – Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe – “as a sign of respect” from community members including knowledge keepers and Elders.
The police also said they were meeting with family representatives and Indigenous leadership and would not comment on the cases until those meetings are done.
Little is known Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, who police said was living in Winnipeg and is believed to be in her mid-20s.
Police uncovered Contois’s remains earlier in the year, but none of the other women’s bodies have been located. They are believed to have been killed between March and May 2022. Winnipeg police chief Danny Smyth told reporters they were probably taken to the the city’s Brady Landfill, where Contois’s remains were found, but believes too much time has passed for police to uncover any new evidence.
Skibicki’s lawyer says his client will plead not guilty to the four counts of first-degree murder.