[This article originally appeared on sister site Geeks&Beats. – AC]
As a Canadian, it’s easy to want to help Canada’s First Peoples but not know what to do about it. We know many Indigenous communities don’t have access to basic necessities. Clean water and higher education have become privileges. Moreover, we know that Canada’s past left a quake of shame, depression, poverty and whitewashing. What can we do?
It’s easy to want to do something and be paralyzed. -Mike Downie
In the beginning, there was Chanie Wenjack. His story is simple, non-threatening and sad. Wenjack ran away from Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School and tried to walk over 600 km back to his home in Ogoki Post. Sadly, he never made it.
When Wenjack died, writer Ian Adams wrote an article called “The Lonely Death of Chanie Wenjack” which was featured in Maclean’s Magazine. This article crossed Mike Downie’s desk years later when he heard about it on a podcast. The story immediately hit a nerve; why had Canadians been ignoring this for so long? Of course, Mike went to his brother, Gord Downie.
Gord’s answer was to write ten poems about Chanie’s story. Those poems turned into ten songs. Those songs turned into 2016’s Secret Path– an album, graphic novel (illustrations by Jeff Lemire) and thanks to Justin Stevenson, a film. Afterwards, this project was turned into three beautiful performances by Gord across the country.
Most importantly, the Downie brothers created something with a lasting impact. Alongside the creation of The Secret Path, the brothers worked to create the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund, a grassroots initiative to better the lives of the Indigenous population across Canada and as Mike puts it, “help move people towards acts of reconciliation.”