A fitting and lasting tribute to the memory of Chanie Wenjack

The happy faces of the OSHKI Graduates completing a course
The happy faces of the OSHKI Graduates completing a course
Oshki Graduates
The happy faces of the OSHKI Graduates completing a course

THUNDER BAY: Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, with the support of NAN Chiefs, is pleased to announce the renaming of the Oshki-Pimache-O-Win Education & Training Institute in honour of Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack on the 50th anniversary of his tragic death.

“As a fitting and lasting tribute to the memory of Chanie Wenjack and all of our youth who were lost during the Indian Residential School era, I am pleased to announce that the institute that has provided new beginnings for so many of our people will be known as the Chanie Wenjack Pimachehowin Educational Institute,” said Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler. “This is a historic opportunity to honour Chanie’s memory in an appropriate and significant manner and build on the momentum his legacy is gaining. We are thankful the Governing Council has renamed the institute in his honour.

“It truly is admirable that Gord Downie is telling the tragic story of Chanie Wenjack. The renaming of our institute will hold Chanie and the memory of all those who went to Indian Residential School and the multi-generational impacts it has had on our people today,” said Fabian Batise, Chair of the Oshki-Pimache-0-Win Governing Council. “This will be a lasting legacy for all Residential School survivors across NAN territory. It is our hope that the people of Nishnawbe Aski who desire new beginnings through education and training will benefit from Gord Downie’s goal to raise public consciousness of the Canadian government’s residential school policy to assimilate our people in years past that has greatly impacted the social fabric and beings of our people.”

Founded in 1996, Oshki-Pimache-O-Education and Training Institute is an Aboriginal post- secondary education and training institute committed to increasing access to, and success in, accredited post-secondary education to the people in the forty-nine communities of Nishnawbe Aski Nation and other learners. The institute has provided new beginnings for many NAN members through education and training programs, with more than 250 students graduating with postsecondary credentials and several hundred more in other programs and courses.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the death of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, who died on October 22, 1966 after fleeing Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in northwestern Ontario. Travelling on foot in an attempt to make the 1,000-kilometre journey home to Ogoki Post, his body was found on October 23 along railroad tracks approximately 60 kilometres from the school near Kenora, Ontario.

Hosted by NAN and CBC Thunder Bay, The Secret Path broadcast followed performances by Gord Downie of his new album on October 18 in Ottawa and October 21 in Toronto.

Members of Chanie’s family attended both concerts and were welcomed at the Thunder Bay event.

“The past week has been an emotional experience for the family of Chanie Wenjack. We are honoured they were able to join with us for the premiere of this powerful and moving film, and we thank everyone from the Thunder Bay community for joining with us last night in the spirit of reconciliation,” said Fiddler. “We hope that Gord’s determination to share the story of Chanie Wenjack and history of the Indian Residential School era encourages all Canadians to follow his lead and unite in the spirit of reconciliation and learn more about our shared history.”

The Secret Path film is an animated film adaptation of Gord Downie’s album and Jeff Lemire’s graphic novel. Working with Downie’s poetry and music, Lemire has created a powerful visual representation of the life of Chanie Wenjack. The film is divided into ten chapters, each a song from Downie’s musical retelling of Chanie’s story – from his escape from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School, to his subsequent and heartbreaking death from hunger and exposure to the harsh weather. The final product is a uniquely immersive emotional experience – an insight into the life of a little boy who, as Gord has said, he never knew, “but will always love.”

Launched last week, The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund is a catalyst to jumpstart reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples, part of Gord Downie’s legacy, commitment and recognition of the wounds that will take generations to heal.

Please visit: downiewenjack.ca and secretpath.ca

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