A Rapid City mural dedicated to the voices of MMIW

A personal tragedy inspired a local artist to lend his craft to the awareness of missing and murdered indigenous women.
Published: Aug. 9, 2020 at 11:39 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - While the coronavirus still lingers, there is another crisis that remains too.

As more legislation was discussed, a new cold case building opened up in Rapid City, the cases of missing and murdered indigenous women are still not solved.

Just beside the Woyotan Lutheran Church, you will spot a mural that not only adds color to the city but sheds light on a plaguing issue in the Native American community.

An issue that hits close to home for muralist Focus Smith.

In the past, Smith's sister was raped and beaten before she was finally found on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

“That’s one of those things that affects the entire family. You know it doesn’t just stop. Of course, with the huge trauma that that person suffered. It ripples through the entire family,” Smith said.

It’s one of the reasons why he started painting murals.

After leaving his sister with a mural on the reservation to view at anytime, he created a different one in Rapid City.

“That helped a little bit and that’s when I first started to realize just what this can do,” Smith said.

A two-week project that provides healing and a sense of connection for the community as people have left flowers and their own hand prints as their mark.

Smith painted the portrait of Wanikiya, Jesus in Lakota, at the top of the mural to pay respect to the church. The Black Hills is depicted in the mural with red shirts hanging from trees to represent all the Native American lives that were murdered or went missing.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Service’s partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, known as NamUs, has led to the development and implementation of new tribal-affiliation data fields to assist law enforcement with capturing information to track missing and murdered persons in Indian Country. Since the addition of these new data fields last year, there has been a 60 percent increase in Native-person entries into the system.

A step to try to track the trend but still many more cases are unreported.

“And I always hate to use this word but the victim afraid to go to authorities or afraid to come forward and say this is what happened to me because the lack of belief that usually comes as a part of it,” Smith said.

It’s one piece of art he created to remind people that he believes them and they are not forgotten.

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