Secret Path Turns 5 - The JUNO Awards

Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack’s Legacies Remain As Relevant Today As Ever

Secret Path is a multimedia project created by Gord Downie which tells the heartbreaking story of Chanie Wenjack and the dark history of residential schools in Canada. The centrepiece of the project, which includes a graphic novel and film illustrated by Jeff Lemire, is Gord Downie’s JUNO award-winning album — the final album released during his lifetime. 

The concept behind Secret Path was introduced to Downie by his brother Mike who shared with him Ian Adams’ Maclean’s article from 1967, “The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack.”

Chanie Wenjack was a 12-year-old Anishinaabe boy from the Marten Falls First Nation who died in 1966 after escaping the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School. Chanie attempted to travel over 600 kilometres to get home but tragically succumbed to exposure and starvation during his journey. He was discovered with only a windbreaker for warmth and a jar of half a dozen unused wooden matches.

October 2021 marks 5 years since the release of Secret Path, Gord Downie’s JUNO-winning album and multimedia art project.

Sadly, Chanie Wenjack’s story is not an isolated incident. For decades, Indigenous children were removed from their homes and housed in residential schools, where they were abused and isolated from their families, culture, and religion. Many of these children tried to flee but never made it home.

Chanie’s legacy is one that struck deep with Gord Downie and inspired him to create Secret Path. The project began as a series of poems which were then fleshed into a ten-song album accompanied by a graphic novel and animated television film.

“Thank you for stepping into the wind. For following a sound you’ve been sort of hearing your entire life. For looking to see what has been bothering you a little bit. For recognizing that we are not completely Canada yet. For seeing we have friends, our fellow countrymen and women who are in big trouble. For recognizing our friends who were here before us at least for thousands of years. First Nations have many, many, many stories like this one. ”

In 2017, Downie won two JUNO awards for Secret Path including Songwriter of the Year and Adult Alternative Album of the Year. He used his acceptance speech to address the work that needs to be done in repairing Canada’s relationship with Indigenous communities and thank those for their commitment to doing so.

“Thank you for stepping into the wind. For following a sound you’ve been sort of hearing your entire life. For looking to see what has been bothering you a little bit. For recognizing that we are not completely Canada yet. For seeing we have friends, our fellow countrymen and women who are in big trouble. For recognizing our friends who were here before us at least for thousands of years. First Nations have many, many, many stories like this one. ”

In August of 2016, during the Tragically Hip’s final performance in Kingston, Downie urged Canadians to look at the state of Indigenous-settler relations in this country and to “Do something” to change them for the better. 

Today, the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund (DWF) continues to build cultural understanding and create a path toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Their goal is to improve the lives of Indigenous people by building awareness, education, and connections between all Canadians.

Inspired by Chanie’s story and Gord’s call to action, DWF’s Secret Path Week was established as a national movement commemorating the legacies of Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack. Secret Path Week takes place annually from October 17-22, marking the dates that Gord and Chanie joined the spirit world respectively.

During Secret Path Week all people in Canada are encouraged to create meaningful reconciliACTIONS that move reconciliation forward and further the conversation about the history and ongoing impact of residential schools. During this week and throughout the year, DWF also encourages all people in Canada to Walk for Wenjack to honour the story and life of Chanie Wenjack and raise awareness about the true history of residential schools.

Organized by a dedicated team of volunteers and champions, Walk for Wenjack is a grassroots event that started in 2016. The first walk retraced the steps of Chanie Wenjack, starting at the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, ON, and continued to Redditt, ON for a ceremony representing Chanie’s final resting spot near Farlane, ON.  Since then, Walk for Wenjack has provided Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada with the opportunity to participate in Secret Path Week in a meaningful way.

Visit DownieWenjack.ca to learn more about Secret Path Week, how to participate in a Walk for Wenjack, and how we can all Do SOmething. To learn more about Chanie Wenjack, Secret Path, and actionable steps you can take toward reconciliation visit the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund’s recommended resources below.

Resources:

 

Secret Path

“The Lonely Death of Chanie Wenjack” Written By Ian Adams, MacLean’s Magazine, 1967

In 1967, a Maclean’s cover story told the tragic tale of Chanie Wenjack, an Indigenous boy who died after running away from his residential school in northern Ontario. Gord Downie has explained that this story inspired him to write Secret Path and so began the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund. 

 

Chanie’s Life Journey (Map) ArcGIS Online for Manitoba Schools

This Story Map chronicles the life of Chanie Wenjack and engages us in the ongoing conversation about truth and reconciliation. 

 

The Secret Path (Documentary) CBC

The Secret Path is an animated film from Gord Downie that tells the true story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old boy who died while trying to escape from a residential school and travel back home. 

 

Secret Path Lesson Plans Manitoba Teachers’ Society (French & Eng)

Includes lesson plans for early years, middle years and senior years. 

 

The Secret Path: Jr. High Lesson Plans through Edmonton Public Schools

The five lesson plans included in this series are meant to help teachers explore the Secret Path book and video with students in grades 7 to 9. Each lesson plan has a corresponding PowerPoint with embedded video.

 

Residential Schools

​​Indigenous Perspectives Education Guide by Historica Canada

Popular narratives of Canadian history have most frequently been told from the perspective of European settlers. As a result, Indigenous experiences have often been neglected or excluded from the telling of our country’s history. 

 

National Center for Truth and Reconciliation Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action

A shared vision held by those affected by Indian residential schools was to create a place of learning and dialogue where the truths of their experiences were honoured and kept safe for future generations.  

 

On Screen Protocols & Pathways: A Media Production Guide To Working With First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Communities, Cultures, Concepts & Stories (French & English)

While this resource was commissioned by imagineNATIVE to provide cultural principles, key findings from a national consultation process, and best practices for filmmakers, production companies, and funders when depicting Indigenous content on-screen, it is well worth the read for everyone to better understand their own role in sharing Indigenous knowledge, stories and learning. 

 

Orange Shirt Day Society

September 30th has been declared Orange Shirt Day annually, in recognition of the harm the residential school system did to children’s sense of self-esteem and well-being, and as an affirmation of our commitment to ensure that everyone around us matters.

 

Starting to Talk: A Guide for Communities on Healing and Reconciliation from the Legacy of Indian Residential Schools by The Sioux Lookout Community Coalition for Healing and Reconciliation c/o the Sioux Lookout Anti-Racism Committee

Starting to Talk – a guide if you don’t know where to begin.

 

They Came for the Children by The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Report created by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Issued also in French under the title “Ils sont venus pour les enfants”. 

 

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The official resolution was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on September 13, 2007. 

 

VIDEO: Talking to kids about Residential Schools

In this video, Monique Gray Smith share tips on both talking to kids about Residential Schools, but also how to prepare yourself as the adult to have these conversations. The video is for parents, grandparents, educators…anyone really with children in their lives. Also included are a number of author tips of books to read, and podcasts to deepen and continue your learning.

 

Where are the Children? Legacy of Hope Foundation

The resilience of Indigenous Peoples is evident in efforts to address the effects of unresolved trauma, thereby conferring upon future generations a renewed legacy of peace, strength, and well-being on this interactive website. 

 

Woodland Cultural Centre – Save the Evidence

As one of only a handful of residential school buildings left still standing in Canada, the Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School is a physical reminder of the legacy of assimilation imposed upon Indigenous children in Canada.

 

Template letters to Parliament 

The Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society is committed to building upon the strengths of Indigenous Children, youth and families to enable them to grow spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally so that they can walk proudly in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. This is their draft letter to parliament:  

https://bentarrow.ca/template-letter-to-call-on-your-members-of-parliament-to-act-on-the-truth-and-reconciliation-commissions-calls-to-action/ 

 

Other Courses  

Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies – Trent University  

University of Alberta – Indigenous Canada  

University of Calgary – Indigenous Learning 

 

Orange Shirts

Nish Tees: 

https://www.nishtees.ca/product-page/orange-shirt-day-tee-2020-mshiikenh-turtle  

 

Orange Shirt Day Society: 

https://www.orangeshirtday.org/phyllis-story.html 

 

More resources can be found at: https://downiewenjack.ca/our-work/legacy-schools-programs/resources 

 

Featured Image: From Gord Downie’s The Secret Path [CBC Arts / YouTube]