The past few weeks have brought the heartbreaking but, sadly, not unsurprising news that hundreds upon hundreds of children have been found buried on grounds of former residential schools.
Children were taken from their families, given different names, stripped of their Indigenous culture and language, under the residential school system that operated until the mid ‘90s. This is not ancient history or even all that far in our past — a popular tweet going around recently reminds us that the last residential school closed while Friends was on the air and enjoying mass popularity.
To help remind people of what the residential school system was about — largely the erasure of Indigenous and First Nations people and culture in an effort to “save” children from something they did not need to be saved from — the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund has organized A Day to Listen: Amplifying Indigenous Voices, taking place this Wednesday, June 30.
June is National Indigenous History Month and, on the eve of what is bound to be emotionally fraught Canada Day, leadership from Bell Media, Corus Entertainment, Inc., Rogers Sports & Media, Stingray Radio and others broadcasting operations across Canada will “join together in an unprecedented collaboration to amplify, elevate, listen to and learn from Indigenous voices,” from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m.
“A Day to Listen is dedicated to sharing stories from Indigenous leaders, residential school survivors, elders, musicians and teachers throughout the country,” DWF says. “The collaboration follows the public announcement that the remains of 215 children were buried at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School and growing numbers of children at former residential school sites across Canada,” including the remains of more than 700 children found just last week on the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.
More than 450 radio stations across Canada will participate in this Day of Listening, stations from a wide variety of platforms and programming.
“A Day to Listen aims to leverage the power of radio to enact real change and begin to set a course for a more equitable future,” DWF says.
The organization’s mission is to “create a pathway towards reconciliation and to improve the lives of Indigenous people by building awareness, education and connections between all Canadians,” DWF says.
Remember that DWF was started after Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip played their last show in Kingston in August 2016, five years ago. Remember that Gord said, repeatedly, that the country didn’t do right by the people who lived “way up north,” that the Indigenous and First Nations people deserved better, for their truth to come out. In the Secret Path, he told the story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old Anishinaabe boy who was born on Ogoki Post on the Marten Falls Reserve, was taken away from his family, misnamed Charlie at the Cecelia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, and died from exposure a week after he ran away, hoping to walk the 600 kilometers to his home.
During that last show in Kingston, before we knew anything about the Secret Path book and music, Gord called upon the nation to Do Something and try to make things right. Things have only gotten worse since then.
A Day of Listening is a powerful gesture of reconciliation and amplifying voices that otherwise get lost and relegated to the shadows. It’s time to hear them, to acknowledge their pain and their loss, and try to do whatever is possible to bring all those lost and stolen children home.
A list of all 470 participating stations can be found here.