Path to Reconciliation for a Future Generation

The Secret Path - Story of Chanie Wenjack

Chanie was a young boy who died on October 22, 1966, walking the railroad tracks, trying to escape from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School to walk home. Chanie’s home was 400 miles away. He didn’t know that. He didn’t know where it was, nor know how to find it, but, like so many kids – more than anyone will be able to imagine – he tried. I never knew Chanie, the child his teachers misnamed Charlie, but I will always love him.

Gord Downie

Like thousands of other people at the Air Canada Centre on October 19, I was moved by the performance of Gord Downie at WE Day Family. The emotion was so raw in his voice, it was inspiring. I was also surprised to learn that residential schools in Canada only shut down in 1996, just 20 years ago. And while I believe that Canadian communities have evolved tremendously, it would still be valuable to raise awareness of lessons from our past.

Admittedly, the story Chanie Wenjack is a very heavy topic and quite difficult for 9 to 11 year-olds to digest in less than two hours, but I was determined to make it fit. Then, I remembered the emotion. In the Build Skills in Communications challenge, there is a section that addresses expression of ideas through arts. Gord Downie is already an icon for Generation X, but his talent can be further shared through a study of the Secret Path.

What you will need:

  • Computer and projector
  • Speakers
  • I am a Stranger lyrics
  • Paper & pencil crayons

What to do:

  1. Share the first part of the lyrics from “I am a stranger to” to “On a secret path” with your Girls.
    • Ask them: Who is telling this story? Describe the narrator. What is happening to him?
  2. Reveal the second part of the lyrics from “The one that nobody knows” to “What’s in my head.”
    • Request three words from each Girl that can be used to describe the narrator’s experience
  3. Show them the third section from “And what’s in my chest” to “Please just let me catch my breath”.
    • Tell them to draw a picture of a scene from this story
    • Explain that this is their interpretation of the story and there are no right and wrong answers to this exercise.
  4. Give them the context of the song and the story of Chanie Wenjack and let them reflect over the fact that Chanie is about the same age and lived in the same country as them. Play the video.
  5. Leave them with a thought that will emphasize the relevance of conflict resolution for their generation. Reconciliation with aboriginal communities is as much of hot topic as gender issues and cyberbullying.

Gord Downie’s music, accompanied by Jeff Lemire’s illustrations, inspired The Secret Path – an animated film. It was broadcast on CBC in late October, but Downie’s performance of I am a Stranger was also a highlight of WE Day 2016. You can catch a repeat of the concert on Saturday, December 3, 2016, on Much Music and MTV. Learn more about Secret Path here: secretpath.ca.


I am a Stranger

by Gord Downie

I am a stranger
You can’t see me
I am a stranger
Do you know what I mean?
I navigate the mud
I walk above the path
Jumpin’ to the right
Then I jump to the left
On a secret path

The one that nobody knows
And I’m moving fast
On the path that nobody knows
And what I’m feelin’
Is anyone’s guess
What is in my head

And what’s in my chest
I’m not gonna stop
I’m just catching my breathe
They’re not gonna stop
Please just let me catch my breathe

I am a stranger
You can’t see me
I am a stranger
Do you know what I mean?
That is not my dad
My dad is not a wild man
Doesn’t even drink

My dad, he’s not a wild man
On a secret path
The one that nobody knows
And I’m moving fast
On the path that nobody knows

I am a stranger
I am a stranger
I am a stranger
I am a stranger.


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