Thursday October 20, 2016

"I want the reader to be Chanie": Joseph Boyden tells Chanie Wenjack's story

Author Joseph Boyden sat down with q guest host Candy Palmater in Toronto to talk about his new novella Wenjack.

Author Joseph Boyden sat down with q guest host Candy Palmater in Toronto to talk about his new novella Wenjack. (Bria John/CBC)

Listen 25:56

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Chanie Wenjack's death. 

The story of the Ojibwe boy who died in 1966 after running away from a northern Ontario residential school has touched many people across the nation — it has haunted writer Joseph Boyden

"His voice really does come to me in this beautiful, quiet way," Boyden tells Candy Palmater. 

Boyden has channeled these voices into a new novella named Wenjack, one of many projects being released this week to honour this important anniversary.

Artist and friend Gord Downie will release an album and graphic novel about Wenjack called Secret Path and the imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival will be screening a film about him and all former students of residential schools.

Wenjack

Wenjack tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, a boy who died in 1966 after running away from a residential school. (Penguin Random House Canada)

Boyden hopes art can help further the conversation on indigenous issues in Canada. "As artists, we're able to say, 'Let's all focus on this,'" he explains. "There's a lot of resilience going on and it's something that I think more Canadians are going to hear more and more about." 

He calls Wenjack a "little book with a big heart," and he hopes that anyone who picks up the book will be able to feel the sadness, hope and empathy behind the story. "I want the reader to be Chanie."