Chanie Wenjack's Story 'Haunts
Me,' Tragically Hip lead Singer Says
Downie's new album to be released in October is dedicated
to residential school runaway Chanie Wenjack and will be
accompanied by an 88-page graphic novel by Jeff Lemire.
An animated film inspired by the music and illustrations
will be broadcast on CBC on Oct. 23. (Gord Downie/JeffLemire)
A 12-year-old Ojibway boy who died from hunger
and exposure after trying to find his way home from a residential
school is the inspiration behind a new project from Gord Downie.
In 1966, Chanie (Charlie) Wenjack's body was
found by the railway tracks near Kenora, Ont.
It's a story that so affected Tragically Hip
lead singer Gord Downie, he created a solo album, a graphic novel
and an animated film to honour Wenjack's memory and educate other
Canadians about the tragedy.
"I never knew Chanie, but I will always love
him," Downie said in a statement on Friday, announcing plans
to release the package in October.
Downie is using his celebrity to draw attention
to the legacy of residential schools and what he sees as the need
for all Canadians to be involved in reconciliation.
Hip lead singer Gord Downie travelled to Ogoki Post in northern
Ontario on Thursday with leaders of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation,
including Derek Fox, left. They met with the family of Chanie
Wenjack, 12, who died in 1966 after running away from residential
school. (Derek Fox/Facebook)
"Chanie haunts me. His story is Canada's story,"
Downie said. "We are not the country we thought we were. History
will be re-written. We are all accountable."
The release of Secret Path coincides with the 50th
anniversary of Wenjack's death.
On Thursday, Downie visited the boy's family in
Marten Falls First Nation, also known as Ogoki Post, about 400 kilometres
northeast of Thunder Bay, Ont.
"We are grateful for Gord's efforts to shine
much-needed light on this dark chapter of history and his humility,
sincerity and artistry is matched only by his determination to tell
the story of Charlie Wenjack and all youth from the residential
school era, youth who never made it home," said Nishnawbe Aski
Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler.
Wenjack's parents were never told he had run away
from the residential school. They didn't know he was dead until
a plane arrived near their home carrying his body.
Downie said his brother, Mike, first made him aware
of Wenjack's story by sharing a Maclean's article written by Ian
Adams in 1967.
from the Secret Path will be donated to The Gord Downie Secret
Path Fund for Truth and Reconcilation via the National Centre
for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.
(Gord Downie/Jeff Lemire)
Thousands of children died
"Canada is not Canada,' Downie said from Ogoki.
"The next hundred years are going to be painful as we come
to know Chanie Wenjack and the thousands like him as we find
out about ourselves, about all of us but only when we do,
can we truly call ourselves 'Canada.'"
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission found 3,200
recorded deaths of children, like Wenjack, who died while attending
residential schools in Canada. But poor record keeping means the
number could be as high as 30,000, according to Senator Murray Sinclair
who headed the commission.
Secret Path began as 10 poems written by Downie,
recorded as songs in November and December 2013. When it's released
on Oct. 18, it'll be accompanied by an 88-page graphic novel illustrated
by award-winning author Jeff Lemire. An animated film inspired by
Downie's music and Lemire's illustrations will be broadcast on CBC
Television on Sunday, Oct. 23.
Proceeds from Secret Path will go to the National
Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.
'Never been harder'
Downie went public with his diagnosis of terminal
brain cancer in May.
News of this project comes after Downie issued
a call to action on Indigenous issues during the Tragically Hip's
nationally televised concert in Kingston, Ont. last month.
"Things up north have never been harder,"
Downie said from Ogoki.
While visiting with Wenjack's family this week,
he was accompanied by leaders of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Manitoba
Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson and Ry Moran,
the director for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
"To have an iconic artist such as Gord Downie
take a personal interest in the plight of the former Indian residential
school students and in the healing process of our communities is
truly remarkable," North Wilson said.
Several other events are planned to mark 50 years
since Wenjack's death on Oct. 22, including the release of novelist
Joseph Boyden's book about the boy, titled Wenjack.