April 11/17 |
by Rev Gordon Taylor
The energy of children is legendary. I have heard it said that Olympic decathletes cannot replicate the activity of 5 year-olds for more than half a day; they run out of energy by noon!
Having experienced residential schools, many of those children ran away. It’s not the running children or their parents prefer.
In the 1940s, Arthur Ron McKay regularly ran away from the Sandy Bay school.
“I didn’t even know where my home was, the first time right away. But these guys are the ones; my friends were living in nearby reserve, what they call Ebb and Flow, that’s where they were going so I followed.” He said he was physically abused for running away, and that my supervisors they’d hit me, like a man hitting somebody else, like a fist and all that. So this went on and on and on, I don’t exactly know how to say. And then one time the principal threatened us, “If you run away one more time, we’re going to send you to a reform school in Portage, boys’ reform school.” The boys’ home, they call it, a reform school, “If you run away one more time that’s where I’m going to send you and take you down there.” I was thinking about that and I said, oh it’s better to go away, maybe it’s better down at the reform school.
Dora Necan ran away from the Fort Frances school with a friend.
Then we ran away to, me and a girl, we, by Fort Frances, it’s, you know, the States is on the other side of the tracks, so we were crawling there just to run away, that was in the springtime. There was a lot of ice, and there was river flowing down, down there. There was a train coming behind us, so we were crawling to go past this bridge. And it’s a good thing my friend had long hair, that’s where I grabbed her, was so she wouldn’t slip into the river, yeah.
They made it to the United States and stayed there for three days before returning to the school.
And then of course, there is the story of Chanie Wenjack. Chanie, a 12 year old misnamed Charlie by someone at the school, was made famous in death. That tragedy is the focus of Gord Downie’s song entitled, “Secret Path“). The details of Chanie’s run, and his last 48 hours, poignantly echo from Ian Adams, 1967 article, in MacLean’s Magazine.
Charlie Wenjack would have been 13 years old on January 19, and it’s possible that during his short and disturbed life someone may have taken a snapshot of him — one of those laughing, open-faced, blurred little pictures one so often sees of children. But if a snap was taken, nobody knows where it is now. There are five police pictures of Charlie, though. … In one of the photographs an Ontario Provincial Police sergeant is pointing down at Charlie’s body, where it lies beside the CNR track. It is the exact spot where on the night of October 22 Charlie collapsed and died from exposure and hunger . . . just four-and-a-half feet from the trains that carry the white world by in warm and well-fed comfort.
Charlie Wenjack was an Ojibway Indian attending Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, Ont. He became lonely and ran away. He died trying to walk 400 miles home to his father, who lives and works on an isolated reservation in northern Ontario. It is unlikely that Charlie ever understood why he had to go to school and why it had to be such a long way from home. It is even doubtful if his father really understood either.
I invite you to read all of Chanie’s story. Read it a few times, or the graphic booklet that accompanies Secret Path. Gord Downie says it’s the most important thing he has ever done.
Adams, Ian. Feb 1, 1967. The lonely death of Chanie Wenjack. MacLean’s Magazine. Available online at
Your reflections are welcome at the UCiM Facebook page.
“Then they laid hands on Jesus, and arrested him. … A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.” Mark 14:46,51
The Survivors Speak. 2015. Truth and Reconciliation Commission. pp.133-137.