Chanie Wenjack honoured in new name for Nishnawbe Aski Nation education institute
Oshki-PImache-O-Win The Wenjack Institute unveiled new mobile skilled trades lab for communities
A young boy who just wanted to go home was remembered Tuesday at the winter assembly of Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) chiefs in Thunder Bay, Ont., when the group unveiled a new name for its education institute.
It will now be called Oshki-Pimache-O-Win The Wenjack Institute (Oshki-Wenjack), in honour of Chanie 'Charlie' Wenjack, who froze to death at age 12 after running away from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, Ont., in 1966.
'All he wanted to do was to go home'
"All he wanted to do was to go home, to run away from the environment he was forced into," said Wenjack's sister, Pearl Achneepineskum of Marten Falls First Nation.
She was accompanied at the gathering by her son William, and said nephew and uncle share much in common.
"If Chanie had lived, he would be like William. If you talk to William for a couple of minutes, he's all about happiness," she said.
But Wenjack ran away because he, like his sister, was lonely.
"When I was there, at the school, I could not learn, I was too busy being lonely. Loneliness, now, is part of my life. It has stayed with me because I had to accept it when I was six years old."
"One of my greatest wishes, why I told his story, is to have high schools on the reserves, so our children don't have to leave," said Achneepineskum.
She said she was honoured that her brother's name is now linked to an education system that strives to help and support Indigenous young people.
"The name is a lasting legacy for all Residential School survivors across NAN territory and recognition of the multi-generational impacts their experiences have had on families, communities and nations. Oshki-Pimache-O-Win The Wenjack Education Institute is a symbol of new beginnings through Indigenous-centred education and training, " said Rosie Mosquito, the institute's executive director in a written release Tuesday.
To mark that new beginning Oshki-Wenjack unveiled a new $3-million mobile skilled trades training unit, which has 1800 square feet of classroom space, and can accomodate 16 students.
The lab is equipped for instruction in a variety of trades such as welding, heavy equipment, machining, plumbing, electrical and millwright. The trailers can be towed to communities accessible by highway or ice road.
It will allow Indigenous young people to have real careers, said Gordon Kakegamic, the institute's innovation and training coordinator.
'Snowball effect of training'
"I'm really tired of government and industry training our people just to be helpers.We're going to train our people to be journeypersons. It just takes one journeyperson in a community to train other apprentices and you get a snowball effect and you get fully qualified journeypersons in our communities," he said.
The institute is still working out the details on what communities the trailer will visit, and more funding from both the provincial and federal government would help, said Mosquito.
"We have big dreams, we have big goals.. to graduate more people," she said, adding that the institute's retention rate for students is approximately 80 per cent.
The winter assembly heard from the Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde on Tuesday, and will hear from Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynn on Wednesday before wrapping up on Thursday.