Kenjgewin Teg participates in annual Walk for Wenjack Day

Mr. Gerhard marches down the road while being cheered on by Veronica Roy on his journey from M’Chigeeng to his home in Manitowaning.

M’CHIGEENG – Andrew Gerhard and many of his co-workers at Kenjgewin Teg walked home after work on Friday, October 22. Although that might not seem strange to some, it is important to keep in mind that, at least in the case of Mr. Gerhard, the walk was from his work in M’Chigeeng First Nation to Manitowaning; a distance of 39.2 kilometres. The Kenjgewin Teg team was taking part in Walk for Wenjack Day  to honour Chanie Wenjack’s doomed attempt to walk home after escaping from a residential school in 1967.

“Our walk was carried out to raise funds for the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack fund,” Mr. Gerhard told The Expositor. “Our Kenjgewin Teg team raised $1,300 in this our first year taking part in the walk. We received really good support from people who donated to our team. Not everyone took part (from Kenjgewin Teg) but the many who walked home after work. We hope to be able to increase participation in future years.” 

“Yes, I certainly walked the furthest,” said Mr. Gerhard. “It took about eight hours to get home. Originally, I thought I would leave after work at 4:00 pm, but since it would be dark shortly after then, I left work at noon.” 

Mr. Gerhard was inspired by Chanie Wenjack’s story and Gord Downie’s call to build a better Canada to participate in the walk. “In 1967, Chanie ran away from a residential school to get back to his family. It was 600 kilometres for him to travel to get home, and he had no food or water. Unfortunately, he died about half-way home.”

“For me it extended my knowledge about residential schools and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations,” said Mr. Gerhard. “When I was Chanie’s age, years old I was a happy kid attending elementary school. I had never heard about Chanie or Indian residential schools.”  

The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund’s aim is to build cultural understanding and create a path toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Its goal is to improve the lives of Indigenous people by building awareness, education and connections between all peoples in Canada, its website explains. 

Chanie Wenjack (misnamed Charlie Wenjack by his residential school teachers) was an Anishinaabe boy born in Ogoki Post on the Marten Falls Reserve on January 19, 1954. Chanie’s story, tragically, is like so many stories of Indigenous children in this country; he fell victim to Canada’s colonization of Indigenous Peoples. 

At only 12 years of age, Chanie Wenjack ran away from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora in an attempt to reunite with his family 600 kilometres away in Ogoki Post.

Although nine other children ran away that same day, all but Chanie were caught within 24 hours. Chanie Wenjack’s body was found beside the railway tracks north of Kenora on October 22, a week after he fled. He succumbed to starvation and exposure. In his pocket was nothing but a little glass jar with seven wooden matches.