The last piece of work released by Gord Downie before his death was the heartbreaking Secret Path, laying bare for all to see the horrific cost of residential schools. It wasn’t just children forcefully taken from their families, it was children never seeing their parents again because those schools killed them.
From the last Tragically Hip show in Kingston, he made it clear: If he were to have a legacy, Gord wanted it to be efforts toward reconciliation with First Nation peoples, acknowledging the awful things done to them in the name of the government and trying desperately to make things better.
Storytelling, song and healing
On Oct. 21, the Bawwaajigewin Aboriginal Community Circle is hosting a night of conversation, contemplation and commemoration in honour of Downie, featuring a viewing of The Secret Path, a performance by Jeremy Hoyle of Buffalo’s Strictly Hip, and a panel of elders discussing residential schools and their long-lasting impact on the First Nations community. The event will take place at the Regent Theatre on King Street in Oshawa starting at 6 p.m.
The event will benefit the Gord Downie & Channie Wenjack Fund, of course, and has the support of the organization.
It’s also way for the Bawaajigewin Circle to raise money to become a registered charitable status, which would allow this kind-hearted and loving organization to do even more work toward reconciliation and for the benefit of their community.
The focal point of the evening will be reflection on Chanie Wenjack’s story, followed by a discussion of residential schools by those who survived them or whose lives were otherwise touched by them.
At the beginning of the evening, tobacco and tissues will be handed out to participants, which will be collected later and burned in a symbolic offering, a way of returning the sadness and pain to the creator, said Mary Watson, the event’s organizer.
The evening will include a smudge and healing songs performed by indigenous performers, followed by Hoyle singing “The Stranger,” a song from The Secret Path, before the movie begins. Guests will be welcomed by a slideshow, featuring photos and clips from Joel Clement’s movie, “The Weight of Your Heart,” taken during his trip to Kenora two years ago as part of the Walk for Wenjack with the Courage for Gord group.
Speaking about a painful secret
After a brief intermission, there will be a discussion panel led by community elders to discuss residential schools, their impact on communities and how families have tried to heal from those scars. Among the speakers will be Dr. Shirley Williams and Bernard Nelson, community elders and residential school survivors, and Mary George, president of the Bawaajigewin community and a second-generation residential school survivor.
Despite existing for more than 100 years, residential schools weren’t always openly discussed among indigenous families, Watson said.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t know about residential schools,” she said. “We never discussed them.” When the subject came up later, it was a very guarded discussion.
For some families, the fear of residential schools was on par with the fear of leaving the reserve. Moving away meant a loss of community, a separation from family and joining a world and a culture that could be openly hostile. It was a terrible choice to have to make.
For Hoyle, performing in a least his second “Secret Path” event, it’s a way to carry forward Gord’s call to “do something.”
“One small way I can ‘do something’ is to help spread the message with the music,” he said. “The songs and story of Secret Path is as powerful as ever. Nothing is more powerful than the truth.”
How to help
This event is one of many scheduled around the anniversary of Gord Downie’s death, in addition to two performances, one each in Burlington and St. Catharines, all raising funds for the Downie Wenjack Fund. Turns out, the anniversary of Wenjack’s death is right around the same time, believed to be October 23, 1966.
More information on the Secret Path event in Oshawa is available here and tickets can be purchased here; anyone interested in making a donation to the Bawaajigewin Aboriginal Community Circle can do so here.