Art exhibit commemorates missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls

The art exhibit contains 200 handmade clay hearts; each in honour of an Indigenous person who is missing or was murdered.

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Cheryl Ring remembers feeling frustrated by news coverage of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

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Ring, an artist and self-described fourth generation settler, felt the coverage was cringe-worthy as “an army of women and girls” were being reduced to a simple acronym: MMIWG.

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“I pondered that and I felt, as an average Canadian, that I was losing touch with the truth of the real matter, that within this acronym there are people, families, women,” Ring said on Friday at the Legislative Building in Regina.

Ring turned off the TV and began thinking to herself about what she could do to raise awareness about the issue. It was then that she had an idea, so she went to the principal of Prince Albert’s Carlton Comprehensive High School, who offered her space for the project.

The goal was to make 1,200 clay hearts, to coincide with an RCMP report which indicated there were 1,186 cases of Indigenous women who had gone missing or had been killed.

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“We all know in this room, a quick search does not do that number justice,” Ring said.

May 5 is National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirit People, also known as Red Dress Day, which commemorates and raises awareness of the disproportionate number of Indigenous people who are impacted by gender-based violence.

Dozens gathered in the Qu’Appelle Gallery of the Legislative Building, surrounded by portraits of governor generals of Saskatchewan’s past, for the opening of the Heart Spirits Project.

It’s an exhibit by Ring, a Prince Albert-based artist, which displays 200 of the handmade clay hearts that symbolize and honour an Indigenous person who is missing or was murdered.

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The hearts were constructed over multiple one-hour workshops by many people, including students and community groups. The work shops were an opportunity for people to come together and contemplate their thoughts and feelings on the matter, Ring said.

“It was a true community effort. The feedback I received was overwhelming,” Ring recalled. “I honestly don’t think there was a day that I didn’t cry or experience tears in the sessions.”

Dignitaries and guests sit in the front row during the opening of Saskatchewan artist Cheryl Ring’s project The Heart Spirits Project inside the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Friday, May 5, 2023 in Regina.
Dignitaries and guests sit in the front row during the opening of Saskatchewan artist Cheryl Ring’s project The Heart Spirits Project inside the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Friday, May 5, 2023 in Regina. Photo by KAYLE NEIS /Regina Leader-Post

Ring said elder Liz Settee sat in on many of the workshops, led sharing circles, and smudged the venues and clay hearts.

“I’m just kind of overwhelmed with the project, the day and the meaning,” Settee said.

“So many lost loved ones are still out there that we need to continue to work together on finding.”

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Danielle Carrier, a provincial government worker within the family liaison unit, mentioned she had worked in corrections, where she learned of the effects systemic racism, cultural genocide and trauma have on Indigenous people and communities.

One interaction still lingers in her mind: an offender who had committed a “heinous crime” against an Indigenous woman said he did it just because he could.

“According to many Indigenous beliefs and cultures, women are sacred, they are life givers and they hold a lot of power in culture and households. What happened? Why are we here now and how did we get here?” Carrier said.

“All of these are questions society has tried to answer but what is important is to find a solution, to work together to find a solution, so we can have our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunties, cousins be sacred again and forever more.”

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The art exhibit will be open to the public at the Legislative Building’s Cumberland Gallery throughout the month of May. 

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