Donene Sawatzky

January 12, 2022

Cherishing the Tears


Donene Sawatzky is a Métis painter and poet.

Whether it's a field of wheat, an old farmhouse, or a train station, Métis artist Donene Sawatzky was taught to appreciate the beauty in everyday life. Her art possesses the same detail, encompassing the intricate, yet simple aspects of life.

"The delicate beauty in a simple field of wildflowers, a lone dandelion on a hill of grass, or the eyes of a child looking at something new for the first time. Life, experiences of happiness and loss, the beauty I try to see in everyday experiences," she explained. "Whether I was out for a walk, or on the bus to school, I always seemed to see things with a deep respect for our Creator."

For Sawatzky, painting is an extension of these familiar occurrences. Memories are awakened, sometimes it's a word, a smell, or even a song. It can bring out a smile or a sigh, and it often interrupts her day, but these thoughts are the foundation of her creations.

"They can totally inspire an immediate flurry of note-taking, sometimes a recording on my phone if I'm not at a place that I can write or draw," she said. "Feelings can do either, shut me down or bring me to life. My art does both - release and refresh me."

Sketching and drawing since 1975, Sawatzky has not had any formal training, aside from the experience she's gained by "watching over the shoulder." She also likes to try new techniques and methods, aided by the websites of products she uses.


"My art does both - release and refresh me."

Recently, a deep sadness came over Sawatzky, upon learning the devastating news out of Kamloops, B.C. in May 2021, in which approximately 215 graves, presumed to be children, were found buried under the former residential school's apple orchard. First, she felt horrified that residential schools were allowed to open, and what happened was somehow seen as the answer to a problem.

"The things man has done to man, just in my life is unfathomable. For me, the more I came to learn, the more sad I felt," she said. "When they started finding these graves, it became a new level of deep sadness I felt. I can't put into words my feelings over the many families who had their family torn apart and the subsequent fear and loss they felt. I felt pain inside for the childhoods lost, dreams destroyed, and no answers for their parents for so long."


"I believe children should be treasured and cherished - this I tried to show."

Reflecting on her own childhood and into adolescence, Sawatzky reminisces about her own formative years. Refusing to be mired by the memories of a broken past, she instead draws upon the strength, love, and happiness of her youth for encouragement.

"My family in general was somewhat fractured, glued together, then fractured again and again. I really try to take the good out of my childhood and not release the bad memories," she said. "I think in part of my life's turns, I relate to anything involving childhood trauma or hurt. Especially the story of the children taken to a place they should (have) never had to be."

Sawatzky finds solace in writing and said her art is very helpful in dealing with stress, anxiety, and at times, depression. The last year and a half brought tremendous stress. In January of last year her mother-in-law passed away, and nine months later her mother passed. Six months after that her sister-in-law died of a massive heart attack. Throughout these struggles, Sawatzky and her husband were each other's rock. These difficult times were accompanied by a sort of writer's block, and she found it hard to write and paint. She believes the strain and stress overwhelmed and stifled her creativity.

"I put both hurt and sadness into my art as well as love, happiness, and the things that I treasure. I draw or paint every day," she said. "I worry if I can't do it it's because there is a sort of bottling up of a struggle, stressor, or feelings that overwhelm my creative link."

There were times when she could not write, paint, or draw. She was distressed. Eventually, she picked up a pen. It came in rushes and the words began to flow, and then she picked up a paintbrush.

"I started and just couldn't stop. I wrote page after page of poems, stories, and painted and painted. Feeling when it's the right time to write comes like the wind, not much warning. Then the words are literally pouring out of my mind and heart onto the paper. It can be exhilarating," she said.

It can be revitalizing, even invigorating to vivify her emotions on canvas or paper.

"I find writing takes away a lot of the pain, sadness, or strength of the heartache in a more dramatic way. My art takes a lot of time, so healing really isn't very quick," she said. "But writing, well that's like taking a weight off my shoulders and putting it in the words. It's more quickly felt."

Sawatzky says writing, drawing, and painting starts with a thought or feeling. For herself, art has more than one purpose. It's necessary to stay balanced, it's self-motivating and helpful in times of joy or grief.

"It means I cherish the tears of all involved and pray for a future that all will be made new."

We Were Children

I wrote these words after seeing the movie called We Were Children on APTN, in November 2014. I will forever be changed by what horrendous treatment of the native children in Canada by those who believed in 'the white man's ways'. Thankfully, they have finally realized the damage they caused to all involved, "the children taken and the parents left behind", the deep scars they inflicted on the family units of each and every child taken, and of the crime that was committed. Prime Minister Harper apologised and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created to address all the healing that MUST take place. - Donene Sawatzky

We Were Children
by Donene Sawatzky

We were children
We lived a simple life,
With a loving & caring home.
Our family was always there for us.
We never felt alone.
We were children
Our life was full of happy times-
Then all of a sudden it was gone.
Please let us come back home,
I miss you all so much.
We were children,
What did we do?
Why are we here?
Before this all happened,
We were loved and cared for just like you.
We were children,
We had a momma and daddy,
Who played, taught and loved us a lot.

We were children,
With a happy life,
Why did you take us to this place?
What hope have we got?
We were children,
not a care in the world.
That all changed without even a word.
The day you took us,
Our life as we knew it,
Was gone so far away.
We were children,
Till that day, we never
Knew fear.
Now it's all I feel...
I don't think it'll ever go away.

We were children
Momma please come help me,
They are taking away my blanket,
The one you made for me.
Now my dress is gone,
And the flower from my hair.
I am in this shower now
And the scrubbing has begun.
They say savages don't like to be clean,
So they scrub until it's gone...
We were children
I don't like this place,
I want to go back home.
Oh please daddy make them stop.
They say I can't talk the way I've
always done.

We were the children,
Now all I do is cry,
I miss my momma,
My daddy, my bed, and my home.
Where are my toys, books and my yard?
I cry and I cry, no comfort in sight,
Being away from you is so very hard.
Please take me home, please do it tonight.
We were the children,
Now we're so far away.
From everything we knew, from all our ways.
We were children,
Now no matter where I look,
I see no happiness anywhere at all.
I see sad children to whom I cannot speak,
Nothing here reminds me of home,
I wish to my Momma I could call, but
Instead it feels cold and hard,
Just like stone. I just feel alone.

We were children
I'm sad without my home,
I don't like the food,
or the words they all speak.
I feel so alone.
Why am I here, I wasn't even bad.
In this place I don't like,
They yell and they shake us,
And always seem mad.
We were children
I miss our food, our traditions
And the words that I could speak.
Why did they cut off my hair, take my
Clothes and blanket?
That wasn't fair.
It was from my momma,
She made them with care.

We were children
I have to go to bed now,
In a room filled with beds.
No one is talking, they don't say a word.
Now all the lights are off...it's so scary now.
I hear others crying, as I lay here crying too.
Momma help me I don't know what to do.
Please come and sing that song, the one that
Helps me sleep, please come her momma.
I just don't want to stay.
We were children
Its morning now, and
my eyes are sore from crying,
still tears are on my face.
Momma please come for me,
Take me from this place.

We were children
They are yelling at us now,
But I don't know what they say.
The ladies in black grab my arm
and turn away, but I try to follow her
I don't want to make her mad
Down the hall to the showers
Where it all starts again....
Oh Daddy I'm just so sad.
We were children
Another day away from home,
With no end in sight.
I pray to god, and hope he's there
"Please help me to my momma oh please bring me back".
We were children
I'm surrounded by lots of children
With the same sad look I have,
I should be happy I'm not alone, but

Still inside I ache.
We were children
I'm tired but I can't sleep
I'm hungry but I can't eat
I want to be strong, and keep you close.
But it is harder every day.
We were children
I can see you standing there
Waiting for me to come with you,
But I really want to stay.
I can see my momma and daddy
Looking at me, as we drove away.
Someone please tell me, Why did they take me?
And where am I going to stay?
We were children
I remember her gently brushing my hair.
I remember living completely without a care.
All I hear is words I don't understand,
And the crying every night.
I pray that this will be the day

I see you again, I pray with all my might.
We were children,
So proud of and who we were and of our place in life,
But now it is filled with sadness, fear and strife.
The things that brought me comfort, love and deep peace
You stole them away from me,
From this it seems, no matter what, I will have no release.
Instead I have your harsh, unforgiving ways,
You hurt me with your stares, your threats and that belt.
We were children
I did no wrong,
I was a happy little native girl,
And this you took away.
Now I don't who I am,
I am just trying to be strong.
We were children
Can I find a way to leave?
To run away and find my home?
Or will this be my fate and where I must stay,

Will I always be so alone?
We were children
I will always remember the day
You stripped it all away,
My clothes, my words and hair
You scrubbed and disinfected me,
And now all I feel it naked and afraid.
I will work hard, to hold on to my memories
Of our horses, our yard and places that I played.
These were happy days at home.
Nothing they can do to me can ever tear them away.
Deep in my heart they'll be.
We were children,
Can we go home now?
What did I do that made you do this to me?
Tell me what I did or please set me free.
Momma and daddy taught me to believe
In a higher power, that was loving kind.
You try to say god doesn't like me the way I am,
He wants me just like you,

But the things you do to me, he would never ever do.
We were children
Momma I finally got away.
I'm going to try and find you, but
Will you know it's me? I am not the way I was
When I was taken on that day.
I will try to be forgiving as I go on with my life,
Because I know god would want it that way.
I choose to go on, and leave the pain behind.
I choose to forget the hurt they caused to me.
Be a better person, maybe a mother or a wife.
No one said that they were sorry for all that
They have done. They just let me go today,
I just had to run. I guess they will answer for
All they took away, but for myself I promise
To stay, a proud native woman and not let
Hate and anger into my life stay.

 


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