Photo shoot at the Dry Island buffalo jump. Ryan Jason Willert wearing his buffalo robe, holding my Golden eagle fan and wearing my moccasins.
  Photo: Ryan Jason Allen Willert

Ryan Jason Allen Willert

By Meng Wei

It’s said that art is about creativity and initiating some change. For some, art is also a trade to ensure survival.

Ryan Jason Allen Willert started selling his art on the streets when he was 18. Over the past 20 years, he kept “grinding,” to use his word, to make a living as an Indigenous artist—going from only being able to draw stickmen to painting murals and creating landmarks.


His art marks his talent, his healing, and Indigenous teachings when he became a Knowledge Keeper. But it’s not often that a full-time commissioned artist gets to create art for himself, not even during the pandemic.


On the one hand, recognition brought him a consistent income, but on the other, it didn’t give him time to stop and have some space of his own.

Ryan Jason Allen Willert's Magpie 24 x 36 inch acrylic on canvas painting
  Magpie | Image: Ryan Jason Allen Willert

nvrlnd. Arts Foundation reached out to Ryan and offered him a one-month residency. Busy making money and fulfilling his obligations, Ryan was going to turn it down until a funding opportunity came and allowed some breathing room in his life.


“I was able to go in there, and I was able to put hours and hours into just one painting where I don’t get that luxury as a full-time artist,” Ryan says. “It was such a therapeutic feeling for me.”

He says he produced “the best pieces of art I’ve ever made” because for the first time in a long time, he painted in peace for no one else but himself on pieces that are not to be sold.


“I’d like to create a large body of work and come up with a plan for them,” Ryan says. “I’ve got all sorts of ideas for what I want to do.”


Ryan’s next goal is an exhibition at a gallery with his original works carrying his identity and the knowledge he inherited from the teachings that have been passed down for centuries.

Ryan Jason Allen Willert's Pronghorn 24 x 36 inch acrylic on canvas painting
  Pronghorn | Image: Ryan Jason Allen Willert

Myke Buckingham, an artist and the residency director at nvrlnd. says, “Ryan has been my mentor as I seek to better understand the ongoing process of reconciliation in Canada. I want to help Ryan to teach others much like he has taught me.” 


Ryan is going to keep himself busy teaching and helping with ceremonies as an Elder in the making. At the same time he’ll continue as an artist to bridge Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

“Photo shoot at the Dry Island buffalo jump. Wearing my buffalo robe, holding my Golden eagle fan and wearing my moccasins.
The residential schools plagued my people and family. My father went to residential school and he died from alcoholism. I feel as my protest in life for a better tomorrow is to heal from my trauma and pain. Believe me this is very hard and does not happen overnight.
My healing starts with sobriety and the involvement in the ceremonial ways of the Indigenous people. I am truly drawn towards Indigenous teachings that really go into depth on the direction on the path of healing. Step by step healing methods.
The world is a better place when you and your neighbors truly have unconditional love for themselves. Hard to have a healthy love for others when you don’t love yourself ♥️”
-Ryan Jason Allen Willert