Slipping away was simple. The school, a bleak institu- tional building, stands on a few acres on the north-east out- skirts of Kenora. For the 150 boys and girls, there are only six supervisors. At that time, the staff were all new and still trying to match names to faces. (That same day, nine other children ran away. All were brought back within twenty-four hours.) As soon as they were clear of the school, the three hit that strange running walk with which young Indian boys can cover ten miles in an hour. They circled the Kenora airfield and struck out north through the bush over a "secret trail" that children at the school like to use. The boys were heading for Redditt, a desolate railroad stop on the C.N.R. line, twenty miles north of Kenora and thirty miles east of the Manitoba border. Because Charlie wasn't as strong as the others, they had to wait often while he rested and regained his strength. It was on the last part of this walk, probably by the tracks, that Charlie picked up a C.N.R. schedule with a route map in it. In the following days of loneliness, that map was to become the focus of his longing to get back to his father. But in reality
Why did Charlie Wenjack Die? By Ian Adams Page 5 of 18 the map would never be more than a symbol, because Charlie didn't know enough English to read it. It was late at night when the three boys got to Redditt; it had taken them more than eight hours. They went to the house of a white man the MacDonald brothers knew as "Mister Benson." Benson took the exhausted boys in, gave them something to eat, and let them sleep that night on the floor. Early the next morning, the boys walked another half mile to the cabin of Charles Kelly. The MacDonald boys are orphans -- their parents were killed in a train accident in 1965. Kelly is their uncle and favourite relative. Kelly is a small man in his fifties. When he talks, he has a nervous habit of raking his fingers through his grey, shoulder-length hair. Like most of the Indians in the area, he leads a hard life and is often desperately hungry. It's obvious he cares about his nephews. "I told the boys they would have to go back to school. They said if I sent them back they would run away again. I didn't know what to do. They won't stay at school. I couldn't let them run around in the bush. So I let them stay. It was a terrible mistake." That same morning, Charlie's best friend, Eddie Cameron, showed up at the Kelly cabin. He, too, had run away from the school. Eddie is also one of Kelly's nephews. This gathering of relations subtly put Charlie Wenjack out in the cold. The Kellys had two teenage daughters to feed in addition to their nephews, and Kelly, who survives on a marginal income from welfare and trapping, probably began to wonder exactly what his responsibility to Charlie was. He said later that he and his wife, Clara, would refer to Charlie as "the stranger." The Kellys also had no idea where Charlie's reserve was or how to get there.
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- Fall '19
- First Nations, Charlie, Canadian Indian residential school system