Walk for Wenjack With Us Today
On Thursday, Sep 30, the Infinity School community will be Walking for Wenjack and we hope you can join us. We are doing this in support of the Gord Downie Chanie Wenjack Fund.
Why we are walking and who Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack were:
On a hot July day in 1997, I surprisingly ended up meeting and having dinner with some of the members of The Tragically Hip band and then watched their show that night from the side of the stage. That happened because while I was there at the Another Roadside Attraction festival with friends, I bumped into the band’s manager, Jake Gold. I had been speaking with over email regarding a potential booking of another band he represented. He invited me to chat where we could hear each other, took me to the backstage area of the event and the rest, as the cliche goes, is history.
Subsequently, what initially started off as a relationship with a band member turned into an important decades-long friendship and deep connection with one of the most beloved bands in Canada. I feel very honoured that I have had an up-close experience with the guys in the band, having watched almost thirty years-worth of concerts and events. I’ve spent time with them in a variety of different settings and got to see them as people — men on a journey together in music.
One of those men was Gord Downie, frontman of The Hip, poet, creator, and one who was impassioned to make positive change in arenas more than just the ones they played music in.
I often would watch The Hip’s shows from close to the stage because I’m one of those people who like to get in the middle of how the music feels in community with others. With my eyes often on Gord, he’d spot me in the crowd and proceed to make faces at me throughout the show. I’m pretty certain he did this with lots of people but he just had this way of making an audience member feel seen and special, a feeling I can still connect with.
After a few of the shows, he’d chat with me about the “word of the day,” or his escapades in parenting. One time he told me that one of their songs that is very special to me was one of his favourites, too.
Fast-forward to now, three years after Gord’s passing, and I find myself at an intersection where two completely separate parts of my life have collided. Gord’s posthumous wish was that we would “Do Something” to reconcile with the Indigenous people of Canada and feelings of how they were treated in the far northern city I grew up in haunt and disturb me.
Images of authorities laughing while they told stories of verbally, also physically disrespecting and even abusing indigenous people sear my mind. As a child, the adults around me indirectly taught me to fear and devalue indigenous people. I am so gutted by this I can’t breathe sometimes.
It took living on a reserve for a teaching position in my early twenties to open the door to appreciating the Indigenous people, their culture, and hearing about their devastating history. I am shocked that I was surrounded by reserves growing up but not once heard about residential schools or that people only hours from me had been there or lost family members to them.
When Gord asked us to “Do Something,” about this, I put up my hand and said, “I will.”
That “something” was initially registering as a Legacy School with Gord’s Downie Wenjack Fund program and creating a Legacy Room at the school I run filled with Indigenous art and literature. I’m also reaching out to the local indigenous community to see how connecting with them would feel helpful and valuable to them. It all feels too little, too late, but I’ll just keep trying.
To honour Gord’s wishes and Chanie’s fatal walk in the October cold from the residential school he was taken to back to his home, we are walking on Sep 30th — Truth and Reconciliation Day.
Our school students (we call them, “Eagles”) are invited to walk all the way from their houses to the school and back again regardless of how far that might be. For my family, that will be a 10km round-trip walk. Those families who live out of town are encouraged to be dropped off at a peer’s house to walk with them the rest of the way here. We are adjusting the schedule that day in case the Eagles will arrive later due to their long journeys here and back.
We are also inviting members of the London, ON community to walk that day. Regardless of the weather or weight needing to be carried, we encourage everyone to make the time to walk. This might not be fun or easy but it will be important.
Chanie Wenjack walked 600 km along the rail line from the school back to his home before fatally succumbing to the cold and wet conditions. Our hope is that many of us together can match those 600 km of walking in one day. We will ask everyone who walks to register their kms and we’ll keep a running tally throughout the day.
Will you walk with us? If so, click here to donate directly to Downie Wenjack Fund.
-Andrea Loewen Nair, Founder: Infinity School