The story of Chanie Wenjack, the Ojibwe boy who died in 1966 after running away from an Ontario residential school, has been making news recently — this year marks the 50th anniversary of his death.
Writer Joseph Boyden and others are taking the opportunity this year to honour his memory and family through several different projects.
“His voice really does come to me in this beautiful, quiet way,” Boyden told the CBC.
Boyden has written a new novella titled Wenjack, a story that describes the journey that led to Wenjack’s death through the eyes of woodland animals and creatures that watched him as he ran from the residential school.
“I hear his [Wenjack’s] voice, but he’s only 12; he’s got a very limited view of the world,” said Boyden. “His view of the world is not as big as it needed to be. I needed it to be a punch in the gut.”
Boyden said that he started to write the novella in an omniscient voice and began to use the word “we” as he spoke of Wenjack’s journey. Boyden later realized that the “we” in his writing was actually coming from a crow, that was speaking about it saw as Wenjack ran.
“[Eventually] the crow passed the baton on to an owl, and later a wood tick shows up and attaches itself to Chanie,” Boyden said, stating that a pike fish joins the cast of narration farther along into the novella too.
When asked what the novella meant to him Boyden said it “made me fall in love with writing again”.
Wenjack is not the only released or son-to-be-released Chanie Wenjack project this year. In June of 2016, Six Nations’ own Davin Bomberry, 12, portrayed Wenjack in Historica Canada’s 84th Heritage Minute. Friend of Boyden and front-runner to the Tragically Hip music group Gord Downie, will release an album and graphic novel about Wenjack called Secret Path, and the imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival will be screening a film about him and all former students of residential schools.
Boyden said that Wenjack is a “little book with a big heart” and hopes others do their best to reins awareness to indigenous issues across Canada.