Manitoba

'It was all about love': funeral for Serena McKay celebrates how she lived

Serena McKay will be remembered as a young woman who had a passion for music and beauty.

Serena McKay, 19, was laid to rest on Monday afternoon following her funeral service

Serena McKay, 19, was laid to rest on Monday afternoon following her funeral service. Her family says she'll be remembered for her love of music and beauty. The teen was murdered this month on Sagkeeng First Nation. 1:50

Serena McKay will be remembered as a young woman who had a passion for music and beauty.

A memorial service was held at Westwood Community Church Monday to honour the 19-year-old who was murdered this month on Sagkeeng First Nation.

Suspected video of her death was widely spread on social media. But McKay's great aunt said the young woman's legacy will be how she lived her life, not how she died.

"It was about love," Barb Bitternose told mourners Monday. "We imagine Serena to be an angel ... sitting around the throne of God with her friends."

​Celebrating McKay's life

Serena preferred the name Serenity, Bitternose said.

A slideshow at the service told the story of an outgoing teen surrounded by friends at campfires, posing to make funny faces at parties and cuddled up with her close-knit family.

She grew up in Winnipeg but also spent time in Pine Creek First Nation, Peguis First Nation and in George Gordon First Nation.

"She was looking forward to graduating," Bitternose said. "She longed to work up north with her dad after graduation, and longed to travel back to the mountains and explore the oceans and other exotic places."

Serena's aunt, Barb Bitternose, said she was endearing and admittedly bossy as a child. (Courtesy of family)

The Grade 12 student was attending Sagkeeng Anicinabe High School and recently won second place in an animal-calling contest, Bitternose said — a skill she learned from her father who took her hunting. 

Bitternose said the endearing, and admittedly bossy child blossomed into a beautiful teenager.

"She loved taking pictures and was very photogenic," Bitternose said. 

McKay's brother John and close friend Verenica made their way to the front of the church to sing and play her favourite songs on guitar.

'Too common the way our young people are dying'

And while the service centred on celebrating a vibrant life cut short, Pastor Howard Jolly and family did not ignore the violence of what happened.

"It's all too common the way that our young people are dying," Jolly said. 

Bitternose said she always feared losing one of the young Indigenous girls in her life to this kind of violence.

"Everyone is immensely impacted," she said. "Make it your resolve when you go to your home fires that you will talk to your young people," Bitternose said, as she urged the need to keep young people, and Indigenous women, safe.

Alma Kakikepinace agreed.

"She came here to teach us about the missing and murdered," Kakikepinace said following the service. "This is number 12 that I am aware of in Sagkeeng. Everybody says it should have never happened, but it did. And we need to move on and heal now."

Scholarship in McKay's name

The elder was one of hundreds who came out to pay her respects and find closure. She never knew McKay personally but was the first to find the teen's body on April 23.

Serena grew up in Winnipeg but also spent time in Pine Creek First Nation, Peguis First Nation and in George Gordon First Nation. (Courtesy of family)

"I am walking away now with images in mind other than the finding of Serena," she said. "I now have visions of her as a toddler and the drum that was laid with her. And I was able to meet with the mother and offer her the comfort. So I needed these for my healing as well."

Following the service, McKay was laid to rest at memorial grounds in Winnipeg.    

Her family expressed immense gratitude for the outpouring of support from across the country.

McKay will be granted her high school diploma posthumously at her class's convocation in June. Her family was also grateful to learn the school is creating a scholarship in her name.

In closing, Pastor Jolly spoke about the significance of names in Indigenous culture. 

"I think she would desire us to have serenity," he said.

The group gathered at The Forks for speeches and song. (Travis Golby/CBC)