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VOLUME 21 | ISSUE 5
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The Trailhead to the Secret Path
Kayleigh Jordan-MacGregor—Development Associate, The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund
Mike Downie—Gord Downie’s older brother—first heard the story of Chanie Wenjack during a radio documentary while driving through Toronto in 2012. As soon as he got home, he searched for the Macleans article about Chanie’s death published in 1967. He knew he had to share it with Gord, who had visited almost every part of the country as a musician but was largely unaware of the residential school system. Through his research with Mike, Gord was inspired to write ten poems, which became ten songs, which became the pages of a graphic novel and eventually a live performance and animated film. The Secret Path project inspired Gord to do more, and to leave a lasting legacy as he came to the end of his own life. In 2016, Mike and Gord co-founded the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund (DWF) in collaboration with Chanie’s surviving sisters and other family members, including his niece, Harriet, an elementary school educator. Mike and Harriet each sit on DWF’s Board of Directors as representatives for their family and get involved in every step. When DWF was created, the organization operated as a project under Tides Canada Initiatives and the Toronto Foundation. A strong base of individuals followed Gord’s call to Do Something which provided a solid foundation for DWF to grow—we gained status as a registered charity in 2018. Since then, we’ve been able to establish a free, nation-wide initiative called Legacy Schools that provides educators with free learning materials for their classroom each year. With nearly 4,000 educators participating, the program helps ensure Indigenous perspectives are represented and celebrated in schools across the country, and students are learning the true history of Canada. Through the Legacy Spaces program, we provide this same education for adults.
Together, we can honour the lives of each child who never returned home by learning about the longstanding impact residential schools continue to have today.
On May 28th, we learned about the heartbreaking discovery of 215 children buried at a former residential school on Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc territory, also known as Kamloops, BC. Since then, many more have been recovered. We know this process will continue for several years. We stand with the families and communities of these young children, and all those impacted by residential schools in their grief. As Chanie’s eldest sister, Daisy Munroe, told us, “It’s really hard when we know what they’re going through. We always knew findings would come out one day.” We’ve been fortunate enough to witness our Legacy Schools, Legacy Spaces, fundraisers and all supporters responding with ReconciliACTION, the same way stories like Chanie’s changed hearts and minds across Canada when it resurfaced.
Together, we can honour the lives of each child who never returned home by learning about the longstanding impact residential schools continue to have today. In order to move towards reconciliation, we need to understand the truth. There were 139 residential schools in operation throughout Canada between 1831 and 1996. An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children went through these schools. Some reports claim a mortality rate of 60%. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has stated that over 3,200 children died in the residential school system, but we know the true number is much higher. In June, we launched the 215+ Pledge as a call to action for leaders in government and religious institutions to create meaningful change. To date, over 15,000 individuals have signed the pledge, and many have joined us, writing to elected officials.
We’re continuously working to deepen our impact through new programs like Artists Ambassadors and Youth Ambassadors, and grow our annual events including Walk for Wenjack and Secret Path Week. Taking place October 17–22 each year, Secret Path Week marks the dates Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack each joined the spirit world. We’re honoured to be included in IBAO’s Annual Convention during Secret Path Week this year, and hope you’ll consider joining us on this journey towards reconciliation.
VOLUME 21 | ISSUE 5
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