A man weaves tales of this land through poetry and song. Senses are awakened by images of past glory, as well as those of immeasurable pain. Challenges are whispered, to all who will listen, from frail limbs and foreboding eyes. Chanie Wenjack’s secret path jolts us into uncomfortable realizations of historical disconnects, and untold misery on the tip of a Raven’s wing. Pearls of wisdom, spoken by a sister, seek a different world through truth and reconciliation. We are all connected to someone, as Gord is to Chanie. Follow the examples of those who came before us, and seek the strength to facilitate change. Let us dance for healing under the moonlight on ashes of love. All is possible with the promise and power of courage.
This sculpture was a very emotional piece to create, but I felt compelled to help tell the story of Janie Wenjack after viewing Gord Downie’s The Secret Path. As most of you know, Gord Downie is the front man of the Canadian band The Tragically Hip. Shortly after his father’s funeral, in 2015, Gord was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a devastating, terminal cancer of the brain.
He wanted to gift the country one more tour, and last summer he and the band played to a full house every night, with the last concert in August taking place in his home town of Kingston. At that concert he acknowledged the plight of our indigenous people, and specifically wanted to address the issue of residential schools. One hundred fifty thousand indigenous children were taken from their families, and sent to state-funded and church-run institutions over a period of one hundred thirty years. They were forced to discard the teachings of their ancestors, and many forms of abuse took place within the walls of the schools.
With his brother Mike, other talented artists, film makers, and musicians, Gord set out to tell the story of a young boy named Chanie Wenjack who fled the Cecilia Jeffrey School near Kenora and tried to walk 600 kilometres to his home in Ogoki Post. Chanie tried to follow the railway tracks to find his way home, but after many days of walking, he died beside those tracks.
My sculpture called Courage, plays with reflected images to honour the memory of Chanie, as well as Gord’s effort to tell the story in his album and graphic album entitled The Secret Path. First of all, the rocky island is reflected into an image of one of Gord’s top hats that he wore during his concerts last summer.
The windswept tree on the island reflects into a Raven’s feather. When I watched The Secret Path, I got the impression that the Raven was a spiritual messenger coming to Chanie to guide him and help him the transition from this world to the afterlife. You will see the Raven is reflected in the two trees on the left as well, to mimic the two legs of the bird. The small tree, on the right of the panel, reflects the popular image of a smiling Chanie, in happier times, standing in a large pair of rubber boots with one leg bent, while standing against a building. The moon and the spray of stars are used to reference the song, Ashes of Love, that Chanie and his sister Pearl would dance to in the moonlight.
I hope that this piece effects people at some level, and moves us all in the direction of healing as Gord has done.