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Gord Downie Announces New Album and Graphic Novel About Residential Schools

The project sheds light on the history and repercussions of residential schools in Canada through the story of a 12-year-old Indigenous boy who died 50 years ago.

by Ebony-Renee Baker
Sep 9 2016, 3:25pm


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Weeks after touring Canada with The Tragically Hip one final time, Gord Downie announced that he'll be releasing a new album and a graphic novel. The surprise project is about a 12-year-old Indigenous boy named Chanie Wenjack who died running away from a residential school 50 years ago.

On October 22, 1966, Wenjack died of exposure and hunger while trying to reach his family that was 400 miles away from the school near Kenora, Ontario. He was determined to get away even though he didn't know how to find them.

"Chanie haunts me. His story is Canada's story. This is about Canada," Downie wrote in a statement. "We are not the country we thought we were."

The novel Secret Path is illustrated by Jeff Lemire, and consists of 10 poems, which were then recorded as songs for the album of the same name.

Downie explained that his brother Mike introduced him to Wenjack's story, which is one that he wanted to tell again to highlight how Canadian governments and churches destroyed generations of Indigenous families.

"History will be re-written," Downie wrote. "We are all accountable, but this begins in the late 1800s and goes to 1996. 'White' Canada knew—on somebody's purpose—nothing about this. We weren't taught it in school; it was hardly ever mentioned."

READ MORE: What Indigenous Artists and Thinkers Are Saying About Gord Downie's Message to Canada

Downie also highlighted Canada's relationship with First Nations during the Hip's final concert, on August 20 in Kingston. Late in the show, which was broadcast on CBC and watched by over 11 million Canadians, Downie called out Prime Minister Trudeau, who was in attendance, for the second time of the evening: "He cares about the people way up north, that we were trained our entire lives to ignore, trained our entire lives to hear not a word of what's going on up there," he said. "And what's going on up there ain't good. It's not cool and everybody knows it. It may be worse than it's ever been ... [but] we're going to get it fixed and we got the guy to do it, to start, to help.''

Secret Path will be released on October 18 and has also inspired an animated movie that will air on CBC on the 50th anniversary of Wenjack's death.

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