The Secret Path is an animated film that was released last year, marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Chanie Wenjack. Chanie was just 12 years old at the time. Like so many indigenous children at the time, when he was 9, he had been taken away from his family and forced to live in a residential school where they changed his name to Charlie and then tried to give him a whiteover. In October 1966, Chanie ran away. He wanted to get home. Home was 600 km away and he didn’t know exactly where he was going but he knew that that’s where he belonged, he knew that that’s where he wanted to be. It was freezing. He walked for days with only a handful of matches and wearing just a windbreaker. They found his body beside the train tracks. Chanie Wenjack died from hunger and exposure. Because our country believed there was only one way to be Canadian.
I’ve embedded The Secret Path video below. If you’d like to save it for later, here’s the link. As you probably know, Chanie wasn’t the only victim of our national shame. Thousands of children, generations of families, were told that they were less-than and forced to give up their culture, their identities, because whiteness was the standard. It begins with an attitude, a perspective arrogant and narrow, endlessly unchallenged. It results in a cataclysm, reverberating through centuries. The effects were and are undeniably cataclysmic. They were also not acknowledged. They’re still not acknowledged, not enough. It certainly wasn’t part of the history of Canada that I learned when I was in school. But that’s no excuse for my ignorance. Laziness is probably the main reason for why I remained – and still remain in many ways - ignorant. And privilege. And complacency. There is no one person who can shoulder it. But if we all shoulder it, maybe we can get somewhere. Which is the message that Gord Downie worked so hard to spread, right up until the end. The message that he hoped will continue in his absence: that we have spent so much time celebrating Canada, we have willfully turned away from what needs to be confronted about Canada, the dark past of Canada. And until we meaningfully confront that darkness, any pride we have in our nation is at best hypocrisy, at worst bullsh-t.
Please click here to learn more about the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund. Click here to learn more about The Secret Path. And click here to learn about the students of La Loche. In January 2016, a school shooting devastated the local community. My friend Marci Ien, then the news anchor for Canada AM, while reading about the story in the newspaper, noticed that several of the teens were wearing Toronto Raptors caps. Marci, on her own time, reached out to the acting principal of the school to ask how she could help. Then she cold-emailed Masai Ujiri and invited him to join her on a visit there. They went a few months later, no media, to hear the stories, to know these kids. A year later, a group of those kids travelled to Toronto, with Marci and Masai, to meet the Prime Minister, to share their experiences, to make themselves heard, to not be forgotten. Marci continues to work with La Loche residents, pushing for a breakfast program at the high school and helping to mentor some of the students. “Do something,” is what he said. Marci is one of those who keeps doing. If you’re lucky, you learn from your friends. They teach you when you suck. Marci teaches me all the time.
Yours in gossip,