Former gang member connects with Lheidli T’enneh heritage, paints murals in Prince George jail

From gangster to artist

From a gun-wielding home invader to an Indigenous artist showcasing a mural series depicting clans from Prince George to Haida Gwaii, Dylon McLemore has made the move toward healing not only himself but his relationship with his community.

McLemore, 24, has been incarcerated at the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre since May 2020. His sentencing is scheduled for September 25, at which time he’s hoping to be released.

Going into the correctional facility, McLemore was a crime-involved gang member. Coming out of it, he’s determined to be an upstanding member of his community who now proudly carries his Lheidli T’enneh First Nation heritage with him.

Within the walls of PGRCC is a first-of-its-kind program called the Indigenous Cultural Spiritual Support that offers people in custody the opportunity to explore their heritage so they can find the connection to their community or reestablish a connection that has been broken.

McLemore lost his family connection when he was embedded in gang life and was able to reconnect with family members during his stay at PGRCC.

“I don’t know where I got my talent,” McLemore said. “My grandma has told me numerous times she doesn’t know where I got it.”

He remembers drawing all the time when he was little and then when he was 14 he started his career as a tattoo artist and has been doing that professionally ever since.

“I was trying to do something successful in here and it was the Indigenous program that got me started,” McLemore said. “It gave me the opportunity to release my art in a positive way. They asked me if I could do this mural project and it bloomed and sky rocketed from there.”

The mural project depicts 13 clans from Prince George to Haida Gwaii.

“I designed them all myself,” McLemore said. “They are on display all throughout the hallways - all the way down from one end of the jail to the other. They were all evenly spaced out in between the windows so it’s the perfect project and they all fit perfectly in the space. It’s so important to me that the community can see the work I’ve done at PGRCC. I wanted to honour the people, not only the Lheidli T’enneh but all the people from here to Haida Gwaii.”

His closest connection was to the image he created for the Killerwhale Clan, the Gispwudwada or Gisbutwada which is in the language of the Tsimshian nation of British Columbia and southeast Alaska. It is considered identical to the Gisgahaast (Gisk’aast) clan in British Columbia’s Gitxsan nation and the Gis?’ahaast/Gis?’aast Tribe of the Nisga’a.

“The one that really stands out for me is the whale,” McLemore said. “It represents me - so it’s going through the sea and that’s like my time of being in jail and then I put four eggs in the centre of it representing my family. It’s about my little family and they’re the ones that guide me through the storm at sea at this moment and they are always with me.”

McLemore said he never felt connected to his culture before so when one of the correctional supervisors taught him about his heritage it all came together.

“There’s a pack of supervisors that helped me and supported me,” McLemore said. “It was really healing for me to understand what this was all about and the art work just flowed.”

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