Posts Tagged ‘Chanie Wenjack’

In June of 2017 I wrote this…

“There’s a lot of hoopla going on in Canada right now. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy good hoopla especially about this country I know and love. I am a proud Canadian. Born and bred. I have always been grateful that I was fortunate enough to be born in Canada. Everyone loves Canadians. By reputation we are friendly, polite, clean and relatively quiet. The kind of neighbour everybody wants. We do, however, stand on our moral high ground and make judgements about other more despicable countries. Unfortunately, just like every other neighbour we have our share of dirty little secrets behind closed doors.”

The “hoopla” was about Canada celebrating its 150th birthday. At the time I had mixed feelings about it. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. In 1967 Canada celebrated its Centennial year. It was one of the best years of my life. I have nothing but fond memories of my great nation celebrating being 100. I was a child. My Mother was still alive. In fact, it was the last great year with my Mom. The next couple of years would be filled with hospitals, chemo and radiation, only to lose her in 1969. 

Centennial year was filled with celebrations and endless activities across the country (I went on to tell you all about them here).  We didn’t miss any of them when they were in our area. 

On a personal note, I was part of a choir that performed “100 Years in Song” and I was one of the children chosen to sing with The Pied Piper of Canada, when he came to town. 

Bobby Gimby appearing as The Pied Piper during Canada’s Centennial celebrations in 1967. (courtesy Harper Stevens, Wikimedia Commons)

I went on to write,

“Many years later, when I went back to college as a 30+ year old, I was assigned along with my much younger classmates to do some PR work for a local museum. As we went through the museum there was a display from Centennial Year. My first reaction was one of fond memories. Then I saw the photo of me with the “Pied Piper”. My next reaction was, “Oh, my gosh! I’m so old I’m in a museum!” Then my classmates began asking me what it was all about. They didn’t know anything about Centennial Year. I was stunned that something that had been so important to me had faded in history.”

My best friend in college was Gilbert. He lives in Florida now but I still consider him one of my best friends. Gilbert was a little closer to my age than the rest of the class. As I lamented to him about this time in my life being forgotten, he pointed out that it wasn’t necessarily a wonderful year for everyone in Canada. Gilbert is one of the First Nation people. His talking to me about it was probably the first time that I, personally, became aware of the difference of opinion. In the years since then, a lot of things that we as Canadians can’t possibly be proud of have become more publicly discussed. Our treatment of the First Nations, probably most horrifically concerning the Indian Residential School Systemis a black mark against this country I love. In 1967 Chief Dan George very eloquently spoke his mind. His “Lament for Confederation” is one of the most heart wrenching, eye opening pieces I have ever listened to.

The thing is that at the time, I was a kid caught up in the excitement. I didn’t know about our dirty secrets. Now I do. Now I know how these things have affected friends and family that I care about. Is it any wonder that I am confused about how I should feel about all the celebrating? 

Now here we are. It’s June 2021, just four years later. We as a planet have just experienced one of the worse 15 months period we could have imagined. We as a country appear to be emerging from the grip of COVID-19. We should be celebrating as a nation.

But we can’t.

How naïve of me to think that I had heard the worse. Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, with his dying breaths, tried to make us see in his “Secret Path” journey (well worth the time to watch).

The Secret Path is a powerful visual representation of the life of Chanie Wenjack. “The film is divided into ten chapters, each a song from Downie’s musical retelling of Chanie’s story – from his escape from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School, to his subsequent and heartbreaking death from hunger and exposure to the harsh weather.” Downie left us with his Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund which “aims to build cultural understanding and create a path toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.” 

On May 27, 2021 the headlines on TV, Print, Radio and Internet were pretty much all the same…

Remains of 215 children found buried at former B.C. residential school

I don’t care what race, colour, creed, age or gender you are you can not turn away from the horror that unfolded from there. Support came from all walks of life. Some simply in the form of this sticker on their Facebook page.

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Some demonstrations included displays of children’s shoes.

Others have been poignant messages.

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Then the tally started…

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Today we are reeling from the latest headline.

751 Unmarked Graves Found at Another Residential School for Indigenous Children

The University of Alberta has offered a free course called Indigenous Canada from the Faculty of Native Studies that explores Indigenous histories and contemporary issues in Canada from an Indigenous perspective. I enrolled and have completed four of the 12 modules offered. My theory is it’s better to know the truth of our history than to find out the same way the rest of the world is finding out about us, in the headlines. So far I’m not impressed with our forefathers and their behavior. That moral high ground I spoke of does not exist and right now we seem to fit the despicable list. As our dirty secrets reveal themselves our reputation has definitely lost its luster.

I still love Canada and will always love Canada. I am still grateful this is where I was born. However, celebrating right now doesn’t seem appropriate and the only flag waving I can imagine is this one.

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