'When he cried, he cried alone': The story Gord Downie felt he had to tell

After 50 years of struggling to bring attention to what happened to her brother, Pearl Achneepineskum is finally seeing his story told on a national stage thanks to Gord Downie's new project, Secret Path.

Downie’s album Secret Path tells Chanie Wenjack’s story, who died running away from residential school

Pearl Achneepineskum on when she first saw the Secret Path film: 'I stood there crying throughout the whole process.' (CBC)

After 50 years of struggling to bring attention to what happened to her brother, Pearl Achneepineskum is finally seeing his story told on a national stage.

That's thanks to Gord Downie, who's multimedia project Secret Path tells the story of Achneepineskum's brother Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old boy who died of exposure in 1966 while running away from an residential school.

"I've worked for so many years to do that. I was glad when it finally came out," said Achneepineskum on Metro Morning.

Downie, who was diagnosed with brain cancer after starting the project, was inspired to make an album, film and graphic novel about Wenjack after reading a decades-old magazine article about him.

Achneepineskum sees it as intervention from the universe.

"The creator moves mountains, and that's how Gord came to read the magazine story about my brother," she said. "He wanted to do something meaningful."

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When she first saw the Secret Path film, Achneepineskum said she "stood there crying throughout the whole process."
An image by Jeff Lemire for the Secret Path film and graphic novel. (Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire)

'When he cried, he cried alone'

Achneepineskum remembers saying goodbye to her brother Chanie the day he was taken away to the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School near Kenora, Ontario.

"We looked at each other. I knew, looking at him, that he was really sad to go," she said.

She imagines what he went through at the school, which was more than 400 kilometers from their home.

"There wasn't only abuse. There was also loneliness. He didn't have us, he was just by himself. When he decided to go, he wanted to go home," she said.

"When he cried, he cried alone."

Through the pain of his death, Achneepineskum remembers the little boy she knew.

"He was mischievous. He had a wicked sense of humour… He always felt that he had to do something for you."

CBC to air Secret Path film October 23

CBC television will broadcast the film component of Secret Path on Sunday, October 23 at 9 p.m. ET.

The film combines illustrations by Jeff Lemire and Gord Downie's music.

With files from Metro Morning