KINISTIN - Kylie Severight is hoping to do her share in helping residential school survivors move forward and heal the wounds of the past. And hearing the countless stories, especially firsthand from her grandfather Rex Lumberjack and dad Ivan, a Kinistin Saulteaux Nation councillor, inspired her to paint — a moving picture aptly titled “Found and Free.”
The 26 X 22 acrylic painting shows images in silhouette of the souls of Indigenous children who died while attending residential schools, surrounded by a bright orange glow, floating towards the sun to join the Creator.
Orange became associated with the experiences of Indigenous children while attending residential schools and was inspired by survivor Phyllis Jack Webstad, who shared thestory that during her first day she was stripped of her clothes — a bright orange shirt given to her by her grandmother. It was never returned. Webstad’s story of her orange shirt symbolizes how the residential school system took away the culture and identity of Indigenous children.
“The inspiration mostly involved the news of all the discovered bodies of children that didn’t make it home and for the survivors that attended the residential schools with those children. I also wanted the survivors to feel relieved in seeing their classmates symbolically making it back home,” said Severight, who started painting in 2018 and to whom it has now become a passion.
“I just pictured in my mind the children finally being back. Like getting their hair [styles] back and their traditional clothing. Then they are finally being freed and coming home,” added Severight, who finished the painting in one day. “It was daylight when I started and finished when it was really dark outside. I also took some breaks, like when I have to eat.”
The typically shy 17 year old’s work earned recognition not only from her community — the Kinistin Saulteaux Nation — Indigenous Peoples and First Nations, but also from those in other countries.
“It was overwhelming for me. I kind of have this tough shell that I locked myself in to hide from the world. So, this is all just come right up in my face.”
“I was kind of surprised that a lot of people liked my art, but also happy and proud of myself that people can finally see what I’m capable of. It was just overwhelming,” said the incoming 11th grade student at Melfort and Unit Comprehensive Collegiate who is looking to take up fine arts in college to further her skills.
“I was thinking of making a career out of drawing and painting. Just doing the things I love, which is basically art in general. I also tried sculpting with clay. I do sell some of my digital art online and do commissioned art works.”
Her parents and other family members, who have been supportive of her passion, have no idea what she was working on. It was only when she finished the artwork they finally caught a glimpse of the image.
“Usually when she shows me her paintings, I’m really surprised. But for this one, I cried when I first saw it," said Kylie's mother, Heather. "Paintings never do that to me and so when she showed it to us — her grandparents included — I can’t help but cry. My dad is a residential school survivor and Kylie’s dad, too. My dad was just stunned when he first saw it. That’s why he bought it right on the spot from her.
“I didn’t think that she was going to paint this kind of image. But we were talking about the children being found and that was the vision that we had together. She just came out of her room, several hours later, with this painting. I can’t describe it, but the first time I saw it, it just blew me away."
Heather’s mom Marlene said seeing the painting was hard on their part, especially for her husband, a residential school survivor.
“Discovering the bodies was hard for my husband. He basically grew up in a residential school and he used to tell stories about kids that they never saw again, and they don’t know what happened to them.”
“The discovery in Kamloops triggered something with my husband. It was hard for all of us. But when we saw Kylie’s painting, we just felt very emotional because we understood its meaning. Mostly everyone that sees it feels the same way,” added Marlene, who still has the bird painting that Kylie gave to her when her granddaughter was nine years old.
Heather added that they had made prints after getting the permission from her dad, who now owns the original work. They are selling the limited edition prints with proceeds going to their community, where they are also planning an event to honour the victims and survivors in September, on or before Orange Shirt Day in Sept. 30.
“People are asking to put the image on a T-shirt and our chief said that they wanted it to be the official flag to commemorate the survivors from our community. So, we’re working on that as well. She also talked about Indigenous children that are in foster care, where her dream is to one day have them all back in their communities. She wants every First Nation child to be closer to their roots — culture, language, and tradition.”
Kylie, once proceeds from her artwork have been collected, wants only $200 for her to spend on her own.
“That’s all what she wanted out of this. She wants the proceeds to be spent to her community,” added Heather, as Kylie smiled shyly.
Those who want to purchase the limited edition prints or get more information, you can get in touch with them through the Facebook page Kylie Renee Artwork.