(Photo of protester at Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, North Carolina)
Mika Westwolf (Blackfeet) spent much of her 22 years in athletic pursuits. She liked snowboarding, skating and even hiked the Himalayas while on an Indigenous Cultural Exchange in Nepal.
For Mika that all ended on the night of March 31, 2023. She was struck by a Cadillac Escalade on a road on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana.
It didn’t take long for a suspect to be named, though it took a week to finally arrest the driver, one Sunny White, age 28, who had her two children in the car with her when it happened. Ms. White was released, then broke into the home of her children’s biological father, to retrieve her children (named Aryan and Nation, I’m not making this up) who had been placed there upon her arrest.
Sunny White was then charged with burglary, and the kidnapping, of her own children, not for any charge relating to the cause of the death of Mika Westwolf. White also has child protective charges against her for driving drunk with her children in the car, but not for running over Mika Westwolf on that same automotive trip.
Ms. Westwolf’s family and community are outraged, and their concern has been building through years of living through Montana’s high rate of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women. The Flathead Reservation also has had 239 people killed in road-related incidents since 2021.
This begs the question: what power does the tribal government have to ensure safety for its people on their own land? A Blackfeet Tribal cop found the deceased Mika Westwolf, yet he had no power to arrest, nor does the tribal government have any power to prosecute Sunny White for, in the least, driving drunk on Indian land, not to mention vehicular homicide.
The hands-off policy of U.S. and Canadian law enforcement has been one of the most frustrating obstacles when searching for missing Indigenous women. Unlike the U.S. oppression of Black people, where police and civilians alike have killed folks on camera and then walked free, the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women occur (it seems) on remote country roads with no witnesses.
But Mika Westwolf’s demise is not particularly mysterious. The non-Indian legal system has ample evidence and has convicted people on far less evidence, when it wants to.
Large numbers of people come into adulthood with white supremacist beliefs that are re-enforced in the legal institutions of American life.
They harbor enough hatred in their hearts to encourage future murders of Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), simply by not punishing perpetrators of violence when guilt is easy to prove.
We bear some responsibility for the safety of our neighbors. If more people were taught that, hateful violence and official tolerance of it might start to decline. We have no choice but to look at our neighbors with love, or hate will consume us.
STOP THE HATE
Sources: “Inside the Bungled Probe of Native American Killed by Car Driven by ‘white supremacist’ whose children are named Aryan and Nation–who has NOT been charged,” by Miles Dilworth, Daily Mail, 12 June 2023.