At age 9, Chanie Wenjack was sent to the Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School, near Kenora, Ontario. Chanie ran away from school at age 12 and died during his attempt to return home. His death sparked the first inquest into the treatment of Indigenous children at residential schools.
Chanie grew up in Ogoki Post, on the Anishinaabe Marten Falls Reserve in Northern Ontario, where he lived with his family until he was taken from them to attend residential school in 1963. Once there, he was given the name Charlie by the staff, and this became the name by which he was commonly known.
The Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School was run by the Women’s Missionary Society of the Presbyterian Church and funded by the Canadian government. There were approximately 150 children at the school when Chanie and his sister Pearl lived there.
>Chanie Wenjack and two friends escaped from the playground on the afternoon of 16 October 1966. Chanie first went to the cabin of Charles Kelly, the uncle of one of his friends, near Redditt, Ontario. Kelly advised Chanie to follow the railroad tracks north and ask railway workers for help if he needed it.
Setting off alone, clothed in a thin cotton shirt and pants, Chanie carried only one small glass jar of matches. He survived for 36 hours, walking a total of 19 kilometres before succumbing to harsh, cold weather. His body, bruised from repeated falls, was found beside the railroad by railway men on 23 October 1966, a week after he left Cecilia Jeffrey.
Chanie’s body was eventually sent home to his parents in Ogoki Post, and a national inquest was called to investigate the treatment of children in the residential school system. The resulting report stated: “The Indian education system causes tremendous emotional & adjustment problems for these children.”
Chanie’s death and the subsequent investigation prompted nationwide questioning of the morality and ethics of residential schools.
For more on Chanie Wenjack, visit The Canadian Encyclopedia