By now, most of us are familiar with the story of Chanie Wenjack, the 12-year-old boy who tried to walk the 600 kilometers home, from the Cecelia Jeffrey Indian Residential School to Ogoki Post on the Marten Falls Reserve. He died a week after his ran away; his body was found on the train tracks where he’d succumbed to starvation and exposure.
His story is one that struck deep in the heart of Gord Downie, who wrote the Secret Path as both a series of poems and songs and first performed them in October 2016, just after the Tragically Hip finished what would be their last tour.
Secret Path Week, now in its second year, is meant to honour both Downie and Wenjack and their deaths, on October 17 and October 22, respectively.
The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund (DWF) hosts, organizes and supports Secret Path Week as a time to remember Downie’s call during that last Hip show in Kingston, when he called on Canadians to “do something” toward reconciliation, to acknowledge the mistreatment of Indigenous people across the country and take steps toward making things right.
But what does that look like? How can regular people do something to make a dent in such an egregious, ugly period in history?
It can be as simple as listening to, reading or watching Secret Path, or joining a Secret Path Week event.
It could be participating in one of the Secret Path Week events across Canada, in which people symbolically take steps toward getting Chanie home. For schools, this might mean all students walk a kilometer to collectively make up the 600 he was trying to travel all those years ago.
On Thursday, October 17, the Burlington Performing Arts Centre is hosting “Legacy: A Tribute to Gord Downie,” a night of music honouring Downie while raising money for the Fund.
“This concert of awareness, education and thoughtful action will include performances by Twin Flames, DALA, Royal Wood, Peter Katz, Kevin Fox and Adrian Sutherland (of Midnight Shine) and more,” the centre says.
Funds raised during the performance will go directly back to the fund and the designation of a Downie Wenjack Fund Legacy Space within the Burlington Performing Arts Centre, which is the first arts center in Canada to have the distinction.
There’s also an event at Evergreen Brick Works on October 18 in Toronto that will include a short walk, screenings of Secret Path as well as the documentary “Finding the Secret Path” by Mike Downie and “The Weight of Your Heart: A Walk with Chanie Wenjack” by Joel Clements.
There will be musical performances from Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, a spiritual walk on the trails near Evergreen, learning circles in the Children’s Garden and special guests.
Downie Wenjack Fund Legacy Schools in the Toronto area are encouraged to join in the activities and commemoration at Evergreen Brick Works.
The next day is Secret Path Live at Roy Thomson Hall, where the all-star band that recorded the album with Gord Downie and backed up when he first performed the powerful songs three years ago will once again take the stage, with singers including Buffy Sainte-Marie and Whitehorse.
The bottom line, and what the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund want people to take to heart, is the idea of “ReconciliACTION” — the embodiment of “Do Something” and really taking time to think about reconciliation.
Secret Path Week is a time all Canadians to come together, to think about the horrible past of residential schools and the children taken away from their families, the thousands who never made it home, and try to do something to make the country a better, more united, more just place in which Indigenous lives are valued, their communities treated as worthy of resources, and their history acknowledged.