- By Amanda Wheatley
Gord Downie, of The Tragically Hip, is set to release ten songs in honour of Chanie Wenjack this October. Wenjack was a young boy who died in 1966 during his escape from Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School, near Kenora.
Downie first heard of the story from his brother Mike through an article in Macleans published in February 1967. “The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack” by Ian Adams laid the groundwork for ten poems about the experience. These poems were later fleshed out into songs that Downie now plans to release as part of the Secret Path project.
A graphic novel depicting Wenjack’s story will be released along with the songs by author and illustrator Jeff Lemire. “I never learned about Chanie Wenjack or about any of the tens of thousands of other Indigenous children like him who were a part of Canada’s residential school system,” Lemire stated in regards to Secret Path.
“This is such a massive part of our country’s history, yet our schools didn’t teach us about it. Why? Maybe because it’s easier to live with ourselves if we pretend stories like Chanie’s never happened. But they did happen, and still happen.”
Downie has made a lot of recent statements toward reconciliation that stem from issues of a larger Canadian ignorance. In 2015 Murray Sinclair stated in the Ottawa Citizen “This is not an Aboriginal problem. This is a Canadian problem… They need to know that history includes them.” Sinclair’s words have since become a beacon for Downie to help rectify this problem.
The eighty-eight page graphic novel and the ten songs will be made available on October 18. As well, an animated film inspired by the story and the music will air on CBC on October 23 to mark the 50th anniversary of the morning Wenjack’s body was found.
Downie is also planning two solo performances of Secret Path to take place in October. All of the proceeds will be donated to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.