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Parents recall Mika Westwolf on first anniversary of her death

Mika Westwolf was found dead lying alongside U.S. Highway 93 north of Arlee on March 31, 2023
Mikas Parent
Posted at 3:43 PM, Apr 01, 2024

ARLEE — MTN is continuing to follow the story of an Indigenous woman killed by a hit-and-run driver in Lake County last year.

Mika Westwolf was found dead lying alongside U.S. Highway 93 north of Arlee on March 31, 2023.

Sunny White has been charged with Westwolf's death.

White's trial was delayed to September to give the defense team more time, despite pushback from Mika's family.

MTN's Emily Brown spoke with Mika's parents as they look back and discuss the future without Mika.

“Yeah, I miss her. Her loudness is just very quiet without her,” Mika’s mom, Carissa Heavy Runner told MTN.

Mika Westwolf
Mika Westwolf also went by Moht-ta-pai-yissaapii, "everybody looks at her".

Mika had just returned home from spending time with family in Browning before she died.

“But she was like, just excited, you know, to... I guess, share that experience with us and like she was like, I don't know, she was like re-energized, I guess,” Mika’s father, Kevin Howard recalled.

“I’m glad she got to be back, see family back home and her little cousins because we had her all the time, you know, to ourselves,” Heavy Runner said. “And so, she got to be really close with them and the babies and the little ones, my parents and everybody. And they really missed her when she came back with us.”

Mika was planning her future to live off the land when she returned home.

“She wanted to like raise chickens and, and plant a garden and, and just kind of learn like a self-sufficient lifestyle,” Howard said.

Mika Westwolf's cross - winter
Mika Westwolf’s cross sits frozen to the side of U.S. Highway 93 where she was killed. It has served as a gathering point for prayer and remembrance.

Mika was also looking forward to a winter camping trip.

“She was asking Kevin, and Kevin was telling her...you might wanna wait for it to warm up a little. But she was just determined to go camping in the mountains with her dog,” Heavy Runner recalled.

But before Mika could do either of those things, her life was cut short by a hit-and-run driver. Since then, her parents have felt anger, sadness, and frustration.

“Now we've hit the one-year mark and to me that's, it's heartbreaking because I don't know if it would be another year or another year and a half until my girl gets justice,” Heavy Runner said.”

Mika’s parents were hoping for quick justice but instead waited almost seven months to see an arrest.

Mika Matters Walk
Mid-walk along U.S. 93 near Arlee, Mika Matters supporters pose in their red t-shirts that say #MikaMatters.

Since Mika’s death, her family has been steadily pushing for justice through the Mika Matters Movement.

They’ve hosted Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) awareness walks, and spoken out at various events while gaining interest online.

“I had a little girl reach out to me over the Mika Matters website. And she's a fifth grader, and her note was so sweet. It was just saying ‘I want to help create change within my community and school’,” Heavy Runner told MTN.

Carissa and Kevin say it's not just a conviction they are seeking in Mika's case — but a change in the judicial system.

“It's obviously a nationwide problem. It's not a Montana problem, a Lake County problem. It's a United States of America problem,” Kevin pointed out.

Heavy Runner says once Mika's case is closed, she will keep using her voice to raise awareness for the MMIP crisis.

“Doesn't matter if you're not Indigenous. What matters is that you care about this issue, and you just care about humanity,” Heavy Runner concluded.