Gord Downie on Chanie Wenjack and reconciliation: “It’s up to all of you…” 

 

Gord Downie never met Chanie Wenjack.

“But his story lives inside me,” he says. ‘His story is Canada’s story.”

The Tragically Hip’s frontman created Secret Path—10 song album (nominated for Adult Alternative Album of the Year at this year’s JUNO Awards), graphic novel and one-hour documentary—to share the story of Chanie Wenjack.

WE was deeply moved and inspired when Pearl Wenjack joined Downie on WE Day stages last fall to tell her brother’s story.

“Fifty years ago, a 12-year-old boy escaped from a residential school and set out on a journey back to his family,” the tragic tale begins—details beyond comprehension.

“He never made it home.”

In 1966, Chanie’s body was found by the train tracks in Northern Ontario. His death prompted Canada’s first inquest into the treatment of Indigenous children in residential schools.

“I survived residential school, but I still carry it with me,” Pearl told us when we met in Ottawa. “I have always wanted to tell my brother’s story. To show that his life meant something.”

Backstage at WE Day, Downie is seated at Pearl’s side as they speak quietly about their shared mission.

“We are a warm, beautiful nation with such capacity to love. But we know hardly anything about the darkest part of our history,” Downie says. “Like so many of our Indigenous brothers and sisters, Chanie suffered in a system that tried to erase who he was.”

To this, Chanie’s sister adds prescription and possibility: “Only when we heal can we build a country that we can truly call home. Imagine how strong we would be if we were together.”

We were moved by the opportunity to bring Chanie’s story to WE Day audiences in Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax. We were honoured to work with Downie and his brother Mike on the video we share here.

“The time is now for Canada to get this done,” Craig Kielburger told stadiums of Canadian youth, who roared in agreement.

We believe that in our country’s 150th year, sharing stories and rewriting the narrative surrounding Indigenous people in Canada is the most important thing we can do as a nation.

“Standing with you at WE Day, I see a new path opening up,” Downie says. “A path to reconciliation. It’s up to all of you to take us where we need to go … to help us close the distance between us.”

 

Walk the path to reconciliation with us. Take the pledge at we.ca.