'This is for the people': Northern Ontario artist carves tree for residential school survivors
Stacy Sauve has been voluntarily sculpting figures out of a white willow in Spanish, Ont., since 2010
"I thought, what is it about this dream," Sauve said. "Why do I keep having this?"
Hundreds of children from across northeastern Ontario attended the institutions between the early 1900's and '60s, including Sauve's dad and aunt.
When she turned 30, Sauve said visuals of the schools reappeared so strongly in her mind that she felt prompted to search for answers.
'More to it than just drawing those pictures'
"Something inside of me just thought oh my," Sauve said. "We'll have to do something about it to hold the memories."
At the time, Sauve said she had a craving to draw, which gave her a tool to immortalize the school's history.
She is one of the only people to have sketched Spanish's residential schools.
Sauve donated her images so they could be lasered onto a black granite monument at the site of St. Charles Garnier.
"There's more to it than just drawing those pictures," Sauve said.
Vision in a white willow
At the unveiling of the memorial in 2009, Sauve said she had an apparition as she was preparing to enter her first sweat lodge.
"I was sitting there and looking at the tree that I'm carving now," Sauve said.
"It was a full tree and I could see these people in the tree. I thought wow. They were just so prominent."
Sauve could not get the vision out of her head.
She said she asked her town council if she could recreate the figures on the white willow tree where she saw the people. She was given permission, and in 2010 she started carving.
"This is for the people," Sauve said.
Carving through spirit
She held a four day spiritual ceremony before the white willow was cut, including a sacred fire and feast.
Originally, Sauve tried to get an arts grant for the project. She was declined, but that did not stop Sauve from chipping away at her creation voluntarily.
"Everything I've done has been through spirit," Sauve said. "Every carving I've done, there's always a reason. It's a spiritual reason."
Sauve carved a man in the tree first. It was named "the protector of the children" by an elder.
"He had told me that when they were children in the schools, they could hear the Jesuits walking around in the hallways," Sauve said.
"They always had wished there was some sort of protector there that would help them. That could watch over the children."
In 2011, Sauve created a woman. Another elder named her "Nokomis," which means "grandmother" in Ojibwe.
Sauve then began working on the mythical thunderbird, which she plans to finish this summer.
'Remember where you are and respect'
"A lot of people don't even know what a residential school is," Sauve said.
"When I tell them about all the atrocities and things that have happened there in the past, they are very upset and also moved at the whole thing with the carving."
Sauve said she tries to help people understand the repercussions of the residential school system, which had a great effect on generations.
"They took their culture. They took their language," Sauve said.
Ultimately, Sauve said she hopes her artwork stops people to make them reflect.
"When people are here, I always say remember where you are and respect," Suave said.