Mika Westwolf’s cross sits frozen to the side of U.S. Highway 93 where she was killed earlier this year.
It has served as a gathering point for prayer and remembrance.
Now, the woman accused of killing Mika — an Indigenous 22-year-old — has officially appeared at the Lake County Courthouse.
Sunny Katherinne White is facing five charges for Westwolf’s hit-and-run death in March, including vehicular homicide while under the influence.
“I didn’t really look at her. I couldn’t. I didn’t feel like I had to look at her and I didn’t want to," Mika's mother, Carissa Heavy Runner, told MTN regarding being in the same room with the woman accused of killing her daughter for the first time.
She detailed that it is a time full of emotions, with grief and happiness being two key feelings at the moment.
"I’m happy that we finally made it here but it’s just a lot to look back on what we’ve done to get to this point. I feel for the families that never get to get to this point and never get that closure," Heavy Runner said. "It's frustrating. It's hard. It's draining but I'm glad that we've made it here regardless."
Heavy Runner feels that the suspect’s first court appearance is long overdue.
“This is just what should’ve been done months ago. I don’t understand why it took so long.” She shared that Mika's spirit propelled her through the wait. “We are speaking for her, fighting for her but it’s her. It’s my girl. It’s Mika who captured people’s attention.”
The Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) crisis has been uprooting peoples' lives all across the United States. “This is what reality is for us here in Montana and other reservations and it shouldn’t have to be this way," Heavy Runner said.
She is ready for justice not only for her daughter but also for others impacted by MMIP. That's why Heavy Runner, her family, and friends created the Mika Matters Movement. Through walks, speeches, and petitions, they seek to bring awareness to the epidemic.
“The goal is that more attention is brought to this Missing and Murdered Indigenous issue and we see some actual change, numbers start dropping, or more cases are being covered for Indigenous people by the media and the family is able to share their story," Heavy Runner explained.
She continued that it might be an uphill climb to get justice but still, "Don’t be scared to speak up for the truth for your loved one.”
The 'actual change' Heavy Runner mentioned includes what she calls the system administering justice impartially, "without favor or bias and that race is not a factor in following the rule of law. People who commit crimes need to be punished in accordance to the laws they have broken."
The next step in the 208-day fight for justice for Mika will take place at Sunny White’s arraignment on November 8, 2023.