BRF art display honoring missing or murdered indigenous people in Wisconsin

Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 10:22 PM CDT

BLACK RIVER FALLS, Wis. (WEAU) -The School District of Black River Falls is partnering with a Canadian artist to make clay hearts representing missing or murdered indigenous people in Wisconsin.

98 hearts are being created through the BRF Heart Spirits project, representing a missing or murdered indigenous person in Wisconsin as of 2022.

“We are creating hearts and creating community in support of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls to raise awareness, to honor them and remember them,” Cheryl Ring, the Canadian artist inspiring this project, said.

Ring began creating clay hearts in 2015 to raise awareness and acknowledge missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) in Canada. In 2020, her heart spirits project was chosen to go on display in the Minneapolis St. Paul Airport where one School District of Black River Falls staff member saw it.

“My husband and I were traveling last spring, and we were at the Minneapolis St. Paul Airport, and as I was walking through the airport, I saw this fantastic display of white hearts,” Connie Helstad, a special education teacher in the School District of Black River Falls, said. “I could hear someone reading the names of women’s names.”

Those names were MMIW from Canada, and from there, Helstad was inspired to bring this project to Black River Falls.

“When someone goes missing, or someone is murdered, that is something that we all need to acknowledge and make sure that we’re raising that awareness so that there can be a change,” Helstad said.

This week, community members, students and Governor Tony Evers are taking time to make clay hearts and acknowledge the life it represents.

“It’s more about not necessarily the hearts, but the process of making them and by doing that, you’re focusing on, you know, a person who is missing or has been murdered,” Governor Evers said. “You’re considering what is going on under those circumstances and how we as a state should be concerned about this and stop it from happening.”

This is the first year of this project in the Black River Falls School District, with hopes to keep the message going.

“We hope that every single year we will acknowledge the fact that human trafficking continues, that it impacts our indigenous people at a much higher rate than any other demographic,” Helstad said.

86 of the hearts will be on permanent display at the high school. The remaining will be in a traveling case to show around the community. On May 4, the School District of Black River Falls is holding a free banquet where the complete BRF Heart Spirits project will be on display.