This is the only picture of Chanie Wenjack, the Ojibwe boy who died in October 50 years ago. When he was nine, Charlie as the teacher's named him, was torn from his family and home and sent to Cecilia Jeffreys Industrial Indian School. He endured losing the right to speak his language and practice his culture. He was abused sexually, physically and mentally.
October 16, 1966 was an unseasonably warm day in Northern Ontario when Chanie and two brothers escaped into the bush. There was a secret path that students had used to try and get back home. Chanie and his friends were not dressed for the sudden bitter change in weather. The two brothers found their trapper Uncle and were able to stay with him. Chanie was sent on by himself with the advice to stick to the railway tracks and get food from railway workers when he saw them. Somewhere along those tracks alone, cold and scared Chanie died from exposure and starvation. His body was found October 22nd. 600 km had been an impossible distance but he hadn't given up. He was covered with bruises from falling as he struggled to get home.
Last night CBC presented Secret Path, Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire's re-telling of Chanie's tragic story. Downie sings 10 songs composed to accompany the animation of Jeff Lemire, a award-winning graphic novelist. The images are stark and the music haunting. Secret Path is likely Gord Downie's final project. He is suffering from incurable brain cancer.
Works like this (acclaimed novelist Joseph Boyden has released a novella, Wenjack) are making Chanie Wenjack the face of residential school abuse and horror. Some estimates place the number of children who died at the schools or trying to escape them at 30,000. No one knows for sure.
Chanie Wejack's death led to the first public inquiry into the death of an aboriginal child in a residential school and the jury found “The Indian education system causes tremendous emotional and adjustment problems.” They also recommended that “a study be made of the present Indian education and philosophy," Kudos to that jury but it seems nothing much happened. The results of the inquiry must have been shelved because it took another thirty years (1996) before the last residential school closed.
The repercussions from the abuse of the children who survived are inter-generational. If the story of Chanie Wenjack finally creates awareness of this travesty visited on the First Nations people, he didn't die in vain. Awareness is the first step to making changes.
I debated writing anything about Chanie Wenjack. I am an ordinary, privileged white woman and until last night, I didn't know who he was. Then I thought, if even one person reads my little blog and thinks about the crimes committed on innocent First Nation children, I should do it.
RIP - Chanie Wenjack - born 19 January 1954; died 23 October 1966.
I'm going to have to stop watching and reading news. Keeping up with current events should be a good thing. Who wants to go around in complete ignorance? On the other hand, oblivion has its own attractions.
I feel like I'm living in a speculative fiction reality. Donald Trump? The man should be a bad joke but he's a serious contender for president of the United States. Pompous, full-of-himself, and uninformed, he wants to lead one of the world's super powers. He is a bigoted misogynist who can see no problem contradicting himself minute to minute. If he wins??? And there are troubling things about Hillary Clinton who seems the better choice.
Climate change is here. The picture is a view of our weather in mid-October. Winter gets here a month early; farmers' swaths lay in the field under snow while in central Canada, the temperature will reach a balmy 27 degrees. At the world level, record-breaking hurricanes and typhoons wreak havoc on islands and coastal areas in their path. Their "cooling down" farther along, triggers flooding.
The middle east is more unstable than ever. War has spread to Yemen, Issis fights to keep Mosul, and in Aleppo children die daily in the bombing. The ordinary people are at the mercy (of which there is none) of fighting governments and those that escape are trapped in the purgatory of giant refugee camps.
On a far smaller scale, but something frightening all the same happened to me at one of the local drugstores. I bought a couple of small items, totaling $4.18. After digging around in my old-lady purse, I gave the young cashier $20.20 (since pennies are done). It took her a calculator, several attempts and the punching in of enough symbols to write the first chapter of a novel, to get the right answer and hand me my $16 change.
I do fear that these are the end times.
Sharpen your pencils. Open that new notebook. In just 17 days, it's November and that means National Novel Writing Month. To write a novel in a month means that each and every day without fail you will produce 1,700 words. Opening a Nano account is easy and once you have the account you have access to on-line help and support. You can access as much or as little as you want. There is a word count graph to track your progress and it gives you reports that include how long it will take you to complete your 50,000 words at your present rate. Sound like a lot of work? It is. I've tried a couple of times and I always bog down about 25,000 words. A bit of advice- if you're on a roll and can produce more than the 1,700 words one day, do it. Don't just write until your word count hits the magic number. Stuff happens and if you get behind, it's really hard to catch up. Planning? yes that's a really good idea. I didn't plan but sat down and wrote. I have 25,000 words of a mystery that's way too mysterious. I can barely follow it myself as it ping-pongs around. My second 25,000 words involves The Terrors in Ireland. Why??? you might ask. The attack on Bernadette Devlin, and her family (she had small children) has haunted me. The death of Bobbi Sands in his hunger strike does the same thing. I wonder how awful it had to be in Ireland to put your family and life in danger. You can guess that the concept was way too big and ahem, might require research. I'm not even of Irish descent.
This isn't to discourage you. Fine novels have started as Nano books. Examples are:
There are libraries and coffee shops where "write-in" opportunities are scheduled. This year the Wainwright Public Library offers computers and three chances to come and work on your Nano novel.
Check the library for dates and times.
No more excuses. Write that novel.
I've been writing on and off for years and this is where my more serious pieces will be.