Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack was an Anishinaabe boy and only 12 years old when he ran away from Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School, located near Kenora, Ontario. Chanie’s attempt to return home and see his father led to his death on the side of railway tracks by hunger and exposure to harsh weather. It was one week after he escaped from the residential school and over 60km from where he started. The year 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of Chanie’s death.
“The tragedy of Chanie Wenjack is a part of the sad legacy of residential schools,” says Stephen Kendall, Principal Clerk of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. “His story has an important place in our history as a denomination. As we continue to ask forgiveness from Indigenous people, we pray and hope we can also find opportunities to find healing and wholeness together.”
The Presbyterian Church in Canada ran 11 residential schools between 1884 and 1969. After 1925, the United Church of Canada ran nine of these schools while the PCC continued to run two, Cecilia Jeffrey in Kenora, Ontario, and Birtle in Manitoba. Cecilia Jeffery operated from 1902 to 1976. The schools were funded by the Government of Canada.
- Chanie Wenjack has been featured in a Heritage Minute by Historica Canada. Watch the short video here.
- Gord Downie, lead singer of the Tragically Hip, and Jeff Lemire have published Secret Path, a graphic novel that tells Chanie’s story. An album and film are scheduled to follow.
- Author Joseph Boyden will soon release a new book, Wenjack, about Chanie’s final hours.
Chanie’s story, as well as the countless other tragic and painful experiences from residential school students, led to legislative reforms and class action lawsuits, as well as the creation of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was formed to acknowledge injustices of the past in order to help build futures with mutual understanding, respect and healing. Today, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has a mandate to preserve the memory of Canada’s Residential School system and legacy.
The PCC and the Journey toward Healing
The journey of healing and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada is a path laden with painful truth telling. In 1994, The Presbyterian Church in Canada adopted its Confession for its role in the tragic legacy of the Indian residential schools. The church is committed to walking with Indigenous people on a journey toward reconciliation and living out the spirit of the Confession.
The PCC participated in the Government of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission national events and created the Healing and Reconciliation program to help heal wrongs of the past and work together for a brighter future.
The concluding paragraph of The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s Confession continues to challenge us as this journey continues.
We ask, also, for forgiveness from Aboriginal peoples. What we have heard we acknowledge. It is our hope that those whom we have wronged with a hurt too deep for telling will accept what we have to say. With God’s guidance our Church will seek opportunities to walk with Aboriginal peoples to find healing and wholeness together as God’s people.
There are currently eight native ministries across Canada: Hummingbird Ministries (Vancouver, BC), Cariboo Church (Cariboo, BC), Edmonton Urban Native Ministry (Edmonton, AB), Saskatoon Native Circle Ministry (Saskatoon, SK), Mistawasis Memorial Presbyterian Church (Mistawasis First Nation, SK), Winnipeg Inner City Missions (Winnipeg, MB), Anamiewigummig Kenora Fellowship Centre (Kenora, ON), Cedar Tree Ministries (Duncan, BC).
PCC Resources for Healing and Reconciliation
TRC Calls to Action
The Government of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has issued specific calls to action for churches. What do these actions mean and how are Presbyterians responding? Visit the web page to learn more.
To learn more about the PCC’s efforts in healing and reconciliation, contact Justice Ministries.