Saturday, September 10, 2016
Chanie Wenjack, Gord Downie, and the Secret Path
I never heard the story of Chanie Wenjack, an Ojibway boy who lived in Northern Ontario, until today.
And although it made me feel terribly sad, I'm glad I did.
Because it couldn't be a more Canadian story, or a more powerful story of resistance.
Even if it ended so tragically.
And even though this image will haunt me forever...
For as I also found out, by the time Chanie Wenjack finally collapsed, he was starving, he was freezing, and he was so weak his body was covered with cuts and bruises from falling on the tracks over and over again.
And all he had on him was a little glass jar with half a dozen wooden matches.
But at least he was running for his freedom, like so many Canadian children still dream of doing to get away from the bullies who torment them...
So for someone like me who hates bullies with a passion, that makes Chanie's story even more powerful.
And what makes it even more moving, is the reason I found out what happened to him is thanks to the great Gord Downie.
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.
Who although he is mortally ill, is not going gently, or quietly, into the night...
But is still working for true reconciliation with our aboriginal people, and still trying to tell the true story of Canada.
"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."
You know, the other day I read a column by Neil Macdonald on the commission on murdered and missing aboriginal women.
Best of luck, truly, to the new commission on missing and murdered Indigenous women, as it begins its two-year journey into darkness.
But most of all, best of luck in persuading non-Native Canadians to pay attention.
And it both depressed me, and impressed me with its brutal honesty.
The official opening of the deliberations will merit headlines, and a lot of editorials about how crucial the inquiry is to "the healing process," and "national reconciliation," etc., etc.
But editors and reporters at mainstream media organizations understand something else, too: the audience isn't really very interested in reading about Indigenous issues. Coverage will quickly wane.
For while I hope Macdonald is wrong about that, when the CBC has to close its comments on any story about indigenous issues, something is terribly wrong.
There is way too much anti-native bigotry in this country, it's absolutely disgusting, and it has got to stop.
But indifference is even worse...
For our aboriginal people are one of the greatest treasures of this country, they make it so much more beautiful and interesting, and deserve so much better.
And we will NEVER achieve reconciliation, and become a truly great country, until the truth sets us free.
And as Gord Downie writes, we finally find ourselves.
I have always wondered why, even as a kid, I never thought of Canada as a country - It's not a popular thought; you keep it to yourself - I never wrote of it as so. The next hundred years are going to be painful as we come to know Chanie Wenjack, and thousands like him - as we find out about ourselves, all of us - but only when we do can we truly call ourselves, "Canada."
Luckily, unlike Gord and the decent but hardass Neil Macdonald, I'm more optimistic.
I'm hoping it won't take a hundred years.
I'm hoping that the commission will bring to light more stories like the one of Chanie Wenjack...
The Ojibway boy who was willing to run a thousand kilometres through the Canadian bush to be free.
Stories all good Canadians can relate to, that will help move us to action.
For as I heard a native elder say recently on TV, if you can't feel for a person, or a people, you can never understand them.
And in that regard, this is a great step in the right direction...
Run Chanie run.
Go Gordie go...