ARLEE - A red line runs through the Flathead Reservation connecting the increasing number of people impacted by the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) crisis.
Mika Westwolf's aunt Ashley Heavy Runner shared, “We can’t just forget you know all these people that have been murdered or that are missing.”
Red is the color of the MMIP movement. Over 50 people gathered in Arlee dressed in red on Tuesday, June 13, 2023, to begin a four-day Justice To Be Seen Walk.
Supporters are looking to bring justice to the many Indigenous people killed or hit on Highway 93 and MMIP.
As participants walk along Highway 93 towards Polson, they will be stopping at sites of fatal crashes on the road. Many had a red handprint over their mouths.
Vehicle versus pedestrian crash survivor Alizyia Huff explained, “It represents silence. But we have a voice and we should speak and we deserve to.”
In 2021, Huff and three other friends were using the marked crosswalk from Arlee High School to get breakfast when they were struck by a pickup truck. They survived the hit but were injured. Now, Huff walks for those like Mika who can’t.
“We’re showing people that it matters. And the fact that many people come out here just to walk to represent this beautiful woman, this Indigenous woman, it’s a big thing in our community." Huff stated.
Another life being honored by the walk is that of Maureena ‘Mena’ Twoteeth. Kristen Twoteeth, Mena's sister described Mena as, "Really close to her cousins; we all did everything together. She was loveable. She was my mom's big baby."
“My daughter was killed on the highway in St. Ignatius, January 14, 2022, and I have still yet to get answers of all of my questions,” said Mena’s mother, Bonnie Asencio.
Asencio was quiet after Mena was killed but taking part in the Justice To Be Seen walk over a year after her daughter’s death has Bonnie not shying away from seeking justice any longer.
Asencio continued, “My daughter’s here. She’s pushing me today. She’s telling me, ‘go with them Bonnie they’re gonna help you; they’re gonna get all those questions answered'."
Indigenous people are not only being hit by vehicles.
Seven-year-old Aiden was playing basketball outside his Missoula home in the evening on May 14, 2023. His mother, Alisha Potts, went inside for just a few minutes and when she returned, Aidan was gone.
Potts told MTN, “I called for my son. And he didn’t answer… and it’s not like him to not answer... I turned my scanner on and all I heard was ‘little boy. One shoe. And cut on his head.’"
As she was walking around looking for Aiden, Potts said she waved a police officer down. She recalls being told by the officer that Aiden was in a car wreck in Missoula and the man driving the car had died.
Potts said that Aiden was taken unwillingly by her neighbor.
"I jumped in the ambulance with my son [and] the first thing that my son said was, 'Mom, I was so scared. I was trying to find you.' And my son was just scraped up all bloody, his clothes were just bloody, and his shoe was gone. And he said, 'Mom everything went dark and started spinning.' My heart was just broken that night," Potts explains.
As they walk along Highway 93, Potts stays as close as she can to her son.
After just over three miles, the walkers arrived at mile marker 20, the site where Mika Westwolf was hit and killed.
Supporters proudly raised their signs, showing drivers passing by that they will be seen.
Family circled around Mika's decorated cross and added pink flowers to it.
Mika's grandfather spoke kindly about her and brought everyone together in prayer. Mika's relative, Jason Heavy Runner, sang in her honor.
After the group took a lunch break, they started moving north again, walking along the highway for seven more miles.
The Mika Matters Movement's Justice To Be Seen walk continues this week.
Photos from day 2, the St. Ignatius to Ronan section of the walk can be found here.