Read It: Wenjack

November 05, 2016

On October 23, CBC streamed "The Secret Path" a project from Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire about a young boy named Chanie Wenjack. Chanie was 12 years old when he escaped from a residential school in Ontario and began his journey back to his family more than 600 kilometers away. A friend and I watched the above song from "The Secret Path" -- which you can now find here -- at work the following Monday.

That Tuesday, I had taken the day off of work to be with my son, and we decided to make a stop at the library to pick out some more books in the children's section. While we were returning our previous books in the main part of the library, I noticed the cover of a book that I knew immediately that I must read. It was entitled Wenjack and was written by Joseph Boyden. I had been introduced to the work of Boyden previously this year when my mom and I attended a ballet about the residential schools. I quickly grabbed the book off of the shelf and took it to the front desk to check it out of the library. The librarian told me she had just put the book out not even two minutes ago. It felt like kismet.

Wenjack is a simple, small book, but doesn't let that get in the way of it's raw power. There is even something about the size of the book that has meaning in it. From the first chapter I knew that it was going to be difficult to get through the book. That's always the way it is with difficult and uncomfortable subject matter. It was subtle, but punched you in the chest, and I wept when I finished reading it.

I liked being able to read about the residential schools not just from the perspective of a child, but an Indigenous child, as well as the animals of the forest. The writing was sprinkled with Ojibwe words and phrases, memories of Chanie's life with his family, and memories from the residential school. You felt the connection with his family and his culture dwindling, and could notice the affects the residential school had on him mentally and physically.

The residential schools are an incredibly dark spot in Canadian history. I hope that books like Wenjack and authors like Joseph Boyden will continue to write and be written so that we can open our hearts and begin the path towards healing.

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