Friday August 14, 2015

'The Legend of Bobby Bird': One family's residential school tragedy told in song

Priscilla Bird holds a photo of of her brother, Bobby, whose disappearance from his residential school in 1969 inspired musician Art Bergmann to write a song. (Photos: Tom Roberts and Kenneth Locke)

Priscilla Bird holds a photo of of her brother, Bobby, whose disappearance from his residential school in 1969 inspired musician Art Bergmann to write a song. (Photos: Tom Roberts and Kenneth Locke)

Listen 7:38

In the fall of 1969, 10-year-old Bobby Bird fled a Saskatchewan residential school. It would be three decades before his body would be identified.

Canadian singer-songwriter Art Bergmann recently learned about the young boy's story. Now, he's written a song about it called "The Legend of Bobby Bird."

"I read the story … and it just came to me in a flash," Bergmann tells As it Happens guest-host Peter Armstrong. "This story had to be told and the only way I knew how to do it was to write a song."

Bobby ran away from a residential school in Timber Bay, Saskatchewan in October of 1969. It's believed that he died, soon after, of exposure to the cold.

"From what I hear, there wasn't a formal search until months later. Then, we never heard anything again for years and years," says Bobby's older sister Priscilla Bird. "Everyday I hoped and prayed that someday I would see him again."

It wasn't until December of 1999, that Bobby's body would be identified.

"They came down and took blood samples from us," explains Bird. Then, "They phoned me and said it was positive."

"It's something that we've all carried with us for many years."

Bird hopes that the public will learn about her brother's story through Bergmann's song.

"I know there's a lot of other people that lost family members through the residential school system," she says. "Maybe if we share our story…it can help others that are going through the same thing."

Bergmann echoes those sentiments. He hopes that his song will honour all of the children who suffered at residential schools.

"I wanted to turn Bobby into a legend -- a symbol of all of those kids who disappeared," says Bergmann. "People should hear this song and they should just weep. This nation should weep … and ask for forgiveness."

Take a listen to "The Legend of Bobby Bird":