June 21, 2016 – A new Heritage Minute was released today on the 20th anniversary of National Aboriginal Day, representing those who suffered and were victims of Indian Residential Schools. These schools had long lasting effects on those who were forced to attend them.
This Heritage Minute follows a survivor of a Residential School. It uncovers the story and real life events of Chanie Wenjack, narrated by his sister Pearl, who both attended a Residential School in Kenora, Ontario. Chanie had run away from the school at the age of 12, and only a frozen body was found.
Educating Canadians on the effects and the victimization that Indigenous peoples endured while they were attending these schools, and for generations after, is the intended goal of this minute.
Not easy to watch
Doris Young, a Cree educator and residential school survivor, said this is not an easy Heritage Minute to watch.
“It brings back my own memories of experiencing, of having to watch a child being beaten to death. So when I see that, it brings back those horrors. I hope I don’t have a nightmare tonight,” she said.
While Young says the Heritage Minute might help Canadians understand what residential school survivors went through, she doesn’t think National Aboriginal Day — a day of celebration of identity and culture — is the day to focus on it.
“This little child on this railway track is not our culture. This is about what happened to him because of a political and legal decision that was made for him, for his family, for his community.”
Wenjack’s death prompted the first inquest into the treatment of children at the schools.
“He’s a powerful symbol of those innocents who ran, just trying to be home, and didn’t make it, who didn’t survive residential school,” said Novelist Joseph Boyden who welcomed the opportunity to write the script for the video.