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By Chris Marchand
A cathartic evening of powerful emotions unfolded at The Centre, March 21, as a crowd bore witness to a panel of Indian Residential School survivors after a screening of the animated film ‘Secret Path’.
Presented by Dryden Area Anti-Racism Network, The Secret Path, featuring songs of Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie and the art of Jeff Lemire told the story of Chanie (Charlie) Wenjack — a 12 year-old student of Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School who died of hunger and exposure while attempting to walk home over 600 kilometres to Ogoki Post (Marten Falls).
The film was adapted from the graphic novel and companion album of the same name which was released in 2016.
Extending past 10 p.m. the crowd was spellbound and often moved to tears by the film and heartfelt stories by crowd members and panel guests Bill Gardner, Larry Henry, Elder Leslie Gardner and Chief Arnold Gardner of Eagle Lake First Nation. Deputy Mayor for the City of Dryden Martin MacKinnon also sat on the panel representing the city.
Intergenerational survivor Bill Gardner says he’s all that remains of a family torn apart by dysfunction and self-loathing that has its roots in Residential Schools and the Sixties Scoop.
“My Dad died when he was 40, my mom when she was 39,” said Gardner. “I’ve lost a brother and a sister. And for many years I carried hate for myself. All I ever wanted in this world was to have somebody love me. And I couldn’t love myself.”
Larry Henry says his healing path had led him to rediscover his traditional Oji-Cree language.
“I thank that nun for pulling my ears because it made me determined to learn my language again,” said Henry, a survivor who now works with Grand Council Treaty 3’s IRS Program. “I can now apologize to my sons and my daughters and my relatives. It’s one of the hardest things to do as a survivor, to admit the wrongs to your children in bringing them up. I was not a good parent. I missed that opportunity to learn from my grandparents and not from my mom and dad, as they were survivors too. I was taken away from them as they were taken away from their parents.”
The full Secret Path film can be viewed online at YouTube, or at secretpath.ca.