A group of approximately a dozen people gathered in Coniston on Saturday to commemorate the 55th anniversary of Chanie Wenjack’s tragic death.
Organized by Coniston Historical Group president Jason Marcon and using educational materials from the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund, the group walked a few kilometres through Coniston learning facts about the residential school system along the way.
At only 12 years of age, Wenjack, an Indigenous boy, ran away from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora in an attempt to reunite with his family 600 kilometres away in Ogoki Post.
Although nine other children ran away that same day, all but Wenjack were caught within 24 hours. Wenjack’s body was found beside the railway tracks north of Kenora on Oct. 22, a week after he fled.
Marcon said he organized Saturday’s gathering as a means of honouring not only Wenjack’s story but that of the tragedy-ridden residential school system as a whole.
He carries a copy of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action in his pocket and saw Saturday’s event as a means of honouring some of their directives.
Wenjack’s story, he said, is “the most powerful story we’ve seen.”
Although there are countless other impactful stories about the residential school system, this is one that seems to resonate with both people and the media, so he said it serves as a good starting point for education.
For Marcon, the fact Wenjack would have been 67 if he’d survived hits home as his father, Doug, is only one year younger.
“I’m thinking if he hadn’t gone, if he hadn’t left there’d have been a 67-year-old man still alive today,” Marcon said.
Doug joined his wife and Marcon’s mother, Suzan, alongside two grandchildren by participating in Saturday’s walk. Although they’re learning a lot about Indigenous history now, neither remembers hearing much of anything while growing up.
“Anything that we were taught was who came over -- Jacques Cartier and (Samuel de Champlain),” Suzan said, adding that she can’t help but wonder whether a stronger understanding over the years might have prevented some of the racism that has carried over into the broader society of today.
“I think it’s all important,” she said, adding that everyone needs to have a full understanding of history. “I think it’s important for children to know everything.”
Marcon said that he plans on making the Walk for Wenjack an annual event.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.