May 20—Miranda Rose "Rosie" Kenmille had been wandering too long between worlds, her family said.
Six months after a decomposed body was discovered in Big Arm State Park last November, the family finally got word May 4 that DNA testing had confirmed the dreaded news. The remains were those of their beloved Rosie, now undeniably among Montana's many cases of missing Indigenous people.
The Montana Missing Person Clearinghouse currently lists 179 active missing person cases, with 57, or 32 percent, of them identified as Indigenous. Indigenous people make up 6.9 percent of the Montana population
A cause of death has not been established for Rosie, and her case remains active. Her family felt it was important that she be buried as quickly as possible once her remains were identified.
"She suffered too long on this earth," said her younger sister, Felicity Caye. "With whatever happened to her and with how long it took us to find her, and how long it took to confirm it was her. In our culture [Kootenai], we had to get her put on the Red Road to have her go back to her home."
Rosie was laid to rest Saturday, May 8, four days after her identity was confirmed.
"They were waiting for her on the other side," Felicity said. "Now she can start her journey and take care of the rest of us, so that we're all looked after."
Looking after others was a big part of Rosie's life.
"She was a very strong, independent woman who was there for everybody and anybody, to help," another family member said. "She had lots of friends. She took care of others' children when they needed it. She was basically everything to everybody."
Rosie was known for many talents, among them dancing Fancy Shawl and a Jingle at powwows, music, beading and baking a wonderful banana bread.
"She was a very kind person, her 'Sister's Keeper.' She looked out for her younger siblings more than herself," Felicity said.
The two girls and their two brothers were raised mostly by their grandparents, Albert and Alma Caye, in Elmo.
Rosie was last seen sometime late last summer. The exact date proved impossible to nail down.
She had left her mother's home in Elmo on foot one day in mid-August. As an independent 37-year-old woman, she would not have needed to tell anyone where she was headed or who she would visit with. With a large, extended family throughout the Flathead Indian Reservation, and reaching from North Dakota to Oregon and Washington, she had visited and stayed with relatives and friends all her life.
So it was at least several days before local family members started to realize no one had seen her in a while. A missing person report was not immediately filed because no one was actually thinking she was missing, just visiting somewhere.
"People forget that sometimes when our family members leave, we let them go with the best intentions. We try not to think of the worst that could happen when they're out there," said Rosie's cousin, Kayla Ridgley. "When the possibility [of them disappearing] arises, you want to think no, it can't happen to your family. She has to be safe, because you just love her so much and want her to be safe."
Family and friends started calling each other.
"We had lots of different leads as to who might have seen her last and when," Rosie's aunt, Selina Kenmille, said. But details were thin. "None of the stories matched up in the beginning. Everyone had a different timeline."
"One story said she went to Washington to stay with some friends, another said they had found her ID and wallet at the Highway Department road shop in Elmo," said a family member. "I wanted to believe the one about Washington."
"The press release said she was only reported a month later, as if no one was looking for her," Kayla said. "She was very important to us and we loved her very much. As soon as we knew she wasn't with family, we did make the report."
Kayla, who called Rosie "sister" ever since childhood, was among those who put "Missing" posters all around the area.
"People were taking her poster down even before the body was found in Big Arm," Kayla said. "It was worse once the body was found in Big Arm and they assumed it was Rosie. Then they were taken down almost daily. But we didn't know if it was her. It was really frustrating."
She said she continued to put new posters up.
"It's been a nightmare," Selina said, of the frantic and painful time since Rosie disappeared. "Sheer confusion."
Selina said she and her nieces spent "countless" hours gathering information, sharing it with law enforcement and checking back with them, "trying to figure out what was going on." At times, she wondered if everything they reported was being dismissed, as the investigation dragged on. "It felt like it was going nowhere." But the sheriff's office was "so good to us, keeping in touch."
"When we got told it could be 7 to 8 months [until the body was identified by DNA], that broke my heart because it's hard waking up every day, lost and confused and frustrated," Selina said. "I told myself, 'this is just giving you time to prepare for what's coming.'"
"I just hope that other families don't ever have to go through this," she added.
This was not the first trauma the family had suffered. Rosie had been injured badly in a car accident in her late teens. Her injuries were severe enough to warrant skin grafts and a metal plate in her head, Felicity said. Then, in 2013, Laurence Kenmille, a middle sibling between Rosie Felicity, was murdered at age 28 by a relative who is now serving life in prison.
Felicity and Rose both struggled with the loss of their brother, and Felicity ended up serving time in prison due to a struggle with methamphetamine. She rarely returns to the reservation now, as she has made a successful life elsewhere and does not want to be faced with the drugs that are constantly trafficked into the area despite law enforcement's best efforts. Through it all, Rosie gave her sister support. "She was my best friend."
"My family has dealt with a tremendous weight of loss," Felicity said. "I can't wrap my mind around it."
One family member said it is common among his family and others to walk the many miles between towns and everywhere. But he worries this may be less safe than in the past.
"Back in the day," he said, "it used to be safe to walk. Nowadays, if somebody's offering a ride, you cannot trust them." He thinks it might be wise to teach families that "when they do this travelling up and down this reservation, go in pairs, always be together, watch out for each other."
"I think about how many times I just decided I was going to go somewhere," Kayla said, "and I never thought to tell anybody until one of my aunties would call and say, 'Where are you?' 'Oh, I didn't tell you?'"
"Rosie was a beautiful soul in a dark world," Felicity said. "She didn't deserve any of this, and her community is so confused with what's going on."
"I want people to understand that she was very, very loved," Selina said.
Although the family, the CSKT community, and multiple law enforcement agencies put forth their best effort in finding Rosie alive, she said, they laid her to rest with other family members. The family appreciates the continued effort and support of the community.