Manitoba·Audio

'Think about the girls': 100s of painted rocks placed in Winnipeg to remember MMIWG

Many missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls have left few traces behind, but a Winnipeg woman is memorializing them in a tangible, colourful way to try to get people to stop and reflect on their lives.

Florance Smith hopes simple, powerful rock art placed in public spaces brings happiness to families

Florance Smith placed three of her painted rocks commemorating missing or murdered Indigenous women or girls around the University of Winnipeg campus on Tuesday morning. (Bryce Hoye)

Many missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls have left few traces behind, but a Winnipeg woman is memorializing them in a tangible, colourful way to try to get people to stop and reflect on their lives.

Florance Smith has painted red figures with long, dark braided hair on white stones and is leaving them in nooks and crannies around Winnipeg.

The rocks commemorate missing or murdered Indigenous women or girls, and to date Smith has placed more than 300 around the city, she said. 

About 160 of the rocks include the names of individual women or girls who disappeared or were killed. Each hand-painted stone is unique, Smith said.

She's dropped them off around Winnipeg, Selkirk, Man., and Ontario thus far.

Florance Smith holds up three of the rocks she painted to commemorate individual missing or murdered Indigenous women or girls. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

"They're all out there," Smith told CBC Manitoba Information Radio host Marcy Markusa on Tuesday, adding she has another 50 completed rocks she plans to place around Winnipeg.

"It's important that people know about these girls."

The initiative grew out of the Winnipeg Rocks Facebook page, where people post photos of artfully adorned stones they place or find throughout the city, "brightening someone's day," the page says.

Smith draws inspiration from a personal place — a few of her friends have gone missing, only to turn up dead.

This rock memorializes Amber Guiboche, of Sapotaweyak Cree Nation. She went missing in 2010, when she was 20. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

News spread quickly about the MMIWG rocks. Smith soon received a request from a woman for rocks in memory of her mother who was killed.

"I'm hoping that people are happy, that they see the rock and get some comfort in that," said Smith.

She invites people to post pictures of the stones to the Facebook page. She hopes people pick them up and consider what they represent.

"I want them to think about the girls. That's what it's about," Smith said.

"It's about all these missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls that are out there that nobody seems to care about."

Florance Smith said she hopes the 300 rocks, more than half of which commemorate individual missing or murdered Indigenous women or girls, bring happiness to the families and make people reflect on what happened. 7:21