Gord Downie, the lead singer for the Canadian band The Tragically Hip died on October 17 of terminal brain cancer at the age of 53. He had been diagnosed with the disease in 2015, and vowed to make the most of whatever time he had left. While the Tragically Hip were widely known and revered in Canada, (Prime Minister Trudeau cried on Canadian National Television as he made the announcement), they were only known in indie rock circles here in the United States.
In addition to five solo albums, Downie was very involved with environmental issues and Canada’s indigenous community. Last year he released a solo project called the Secret Path which included a graphic novel and an animated film. The project focused on the short and tragic life of Chanie Wenjack, an indigenous 12-year-old boy who froze to death trying to escape the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School.
“Chanie Wenjack, was a twelve year-old boy who died fifty years ago on October 22, 1966, in flight from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School near Kenora, Ontario, walking home to the family he was taken from over 600 miles away. Gord was introduced to Chanie Wenjack (miscalled “Charlie” by his teachers) by Mike Downie, his brother, who shared with him Ian Adams’ Maclean’s story from February 6, 1967, The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack.”
Downie hoped Secret Path would bring more attention to the plight of indigenous communities in Canada. To that end, all the proceeds from the sale of Secret Path will go to the Gord Downie Secret Path Fund for Truth and Reconciliation via The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at The University of Manitoba.
The type of “reeducation” that the Secret Path highlights, was not relegated to Canada alone. The United States had numerous schools throughout the country with some in California that ran from the 1880’s all the way up to the present day. They included the Fort Bidwell School near Chico CA, and the Sherman Institute in Riverside CA, which opened in 1902, and is still in operation today. You can read more about this history here as well as check out the Secret Path by Gord Downie. The music is available through hoopla.
Books About Indian Boarding Schools