Somewhere in Kamsack, past a lobby, through a maze of offices, and tucked in the back corner of the building, there is a gifted culinary artist who quietly works five days a week to feed and nurture a growing number of her fellow community members. The Mental Health and Addictions Centre in Kamsack has recently re-opened to the public, and Fallon Severight is busy preparing nutritious soups, buns and bannock, hot meals, and bagged lunches. She serves up to 70 people some days, and as word gets out, that number is growing.
The centre, formally known as New Beginnings, had been closed to the public for a number of months due to the pandemic. Despite this, the staff did their best to support those in need with curbside food deliveries and handing out harm reduction kits along a familiar route in town. Many of the clients who use the centre are struggling with trauma, grief, poverty, addictions, and mental health issues. Doors have re-opened from Monday through Friday between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and include access to counselling, health and safety resources, and lunchtime meals prepared by Severight.
Severight began cooking when she was just a little girl. Her father, Leslie, was a talented and disciplined chef who always insisted to prepare food from scratch. His skill and passion passed down to Severight, who would eventually use those gifts to prepare wholesome and delicious meals for people who needed them most.
“Both my dad and my step-mom, Elaine, were great cooks. They taught me to cook from scratch – nothing ever from a box,” recalled Severight.
Severight currently lives in Kamsack. Her mother was a Shingoose, her father, a Severight. Her grandparents were Severight, Cote, Shingoose, and Pelly, and her great-grandmother was a Friday. She proudly calls herself a true Cote First Nations member.
A passion for cooking has come back full circle in a long and winding road that included tragedy, heartache and addiction. Severight grew up in a strict backcountry home on the Muskowekwan Reserve, just outside the town of Lestock. At the age of 12, she moved to B.C. with her mother - away from the quiet, rural homeland to the pulsing energy of city life in Surrey and Vancouver.
“It was a huge change,” said Severight. “I left a very strict home and reservation life and suddenly I could do whatever I wanted, explore the big city. I was also just starting high school –it was all so new for me.”
Severight fell into illegal drug use and prostitution by the time she was just 14 years old, and was swept up into a life well beyond her tender years. A major turn happened when Severight was 16. Pregnant with her first child, she and her boyfriend were expecting the baby to arrive at any time. Along with the stress and bewilderment of not knowing what to expect as a teen mom, Severight received an unexpected call - her boyfriend had been killed. The incident was tragic and complicated – vehicular manslaughter, but Severight believes it was murder. Two weeks later, she delivered the couple’s baby girl.
Shortly following the tragedy, Severight’s mother made the move back to Saskatchewan and she followed her mom with the brand new baby in her arms.
“I was dealing with so much grief,” Severight explained. “After a few years and constant battles with my addictions, I ended up back in B.C., on the streets again – doing intravenous drugs and working as a hooker.”
Severight struggled for some time while her mother took on the responsibility of helping with her child. It would take yet another trauma to turn Severight around again. This time, it involved her father.
“My dad had been fighting cancer for more than 13 years. I got the call that he had taken a bad turn and was in the hospital. I came home and spent every day of his last month with him. I wasn’t there the day he died, but I am glad for those final weeks we had together,” she said.
Despite intentions of desperately wanting to get clean, the pain of losing her father drove Severight to turn again to drugs and alcohol for relief.
“I really struggled,” Severight admitted. “The grieving process lasted a long time.”
Eventually getting back on her feet, Severight earned her high school diploma and went on to secure certification as a fourth class power engineer. When her instructor warned the class that the industry was typically more suited to men, Severight took it as a personal challenge to prove she could do the job just as well. She was eight months pregnant and holding a part-time job when she ultimately graduated the intense first-year program. Although she proved she could step up to the occasion, in the end, she decided the work didn’t suit her after all.
Today, Severight continues to struggle with the pull of her addictions. Despite this, she has learned a number of healthier ways to cope. She smudges, she prays. Sometimes she has long stretches of sobriety, and other times she loses her focus.
“Each time I slip up, I get back up again,” she asserted.
With the support of her therapist, her community, her family, and her mom, Severight continues to build a life she wants to feel happy and excited about. She is now the proud mother of four children. Her oldest daughter, Raye, earned an academic scholarship to the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, SK. Now at 20, and a mother herself, her daughter lives a few blocks away from Severight and they maintain a close relationship. Severight’s younger children, Lenard, 13, Sirius, 4, and six-month-old Hannah-Lee keep the 36 year-old mom wildly busy at home. Lenard still lives with Severight’s mother on the Cote reservation, but goes back-and-forth between the two homes.
What Severight has come to realize, after all she has been through in her short years, is that she loves to comfort others by cooking for them.
“Cooking is my therapy. If I can help in any way, I will cook my little heart out. People often ask me to cook things like bannock, Indian tacos – and I can, of course. But I would love to cook different dishes as well. I can cook Jamaican, Mexican, Afghani, donairs – all kinds of styles.”
While she is happy preparing nourishing food for the centre at this time, Severight dreams of opening her own kitchen someday and launching a menu that will truly showcase her multidimensional talents.