'She's in a good place,' says elder who found body of Serena McKay, as vigil begins in Sagkeeng

'She's in a good place,' says elder who found body of Serena McKay, as vigil begins in Sagkeeng

The elder who found the body of a Sagkeeng First Nation teen says the days since the discovery have been hard.

"I barely slept," said Alma Kakikepinace. "I finally had a meal yesterday — I mean a meal I could taste."

The Sagkeeng resident found 19-year-old Serena McKay's body on Sunday night near a home in the community of 4,000, about 100 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

"I can never unsee it," Kakikepinace said Thursday. She's participating in a singing and drumming circle in McKay's honour that is underway Thursday evening in the community, ahead of a vigil set to begin at 7 p.m. at Sagkeeng's powwow grounds.

"But if I can do one thing good, [it] is to speak about that young lady and say she had her life ahead of her and nobody deserves to die … the way that things happened for her."

Serena McKay was set to graduate from high school in June and had recently moved to Sagkeeng. Two teenage girls from the school, age 16 and 17, have been charged with second-degree murder in connection with her death.

​Kakikepinace didn't know McKay personally. She hasn't spoken to McKay's family yet, but expects she'll talk to them at the Thursday evening vigil.

"I'm not looking forward to this, but it's something I have to do because Serena can't speak for herself now, and so I'd like to speak to that for the family," she said.

"I believe she's in a good place now."

Kakikepinace said the vigil will feature song, drums and ceremony — "an old way for us to heal up," she said.

"I can only speak on a personal level, but I have very strong beliefs in Anishinaabe ceremony, that we need to keep in the ceremony to add to where we've come from as a people."

A 2015 CBC analysis found that Sagkeeng was home to the highest number of outstanding cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Kakikepinace said McKay's death was a wake-up call for the community and speaks to its need for healing.

She believes the people responsible for the killing aren't well.

"Nobody is well that could do such a horrible thing as this," she said.

"We need to pray for them, too, because they're not well, and my way is forgiveness. I know it's hard. There have been some hard feelings and hatred and anger, and I believe that's part of a grieving process. We all have to go through it."