the story of how a little boy met a terrible and lonely death, of the handful of people who became involved, of a town that hardly noticed. Even before Charlie ran away from the school, he was
Why did Charlie Wenjack Die? By Ian Adams Page 3 of 18 already running hard just to keep pace with the bewildering white world he had suddenly been thrust into. He didn't start school until he was nine. The village he came from, Ogoki Post on the Martin Falls reservation, didn't have a day school. So Charlie was sent to the Cecilia Jeffrey School, which is run by the Presbyterian Church and paid for by the federal government. Some 150 Indian children live at the school but are integrated into the local school systems. Con- sequently, Cecilia Jeffrey is, for ten months in the year, nothing more than an enormous dormitory. And Charlie, who understood hardly any English, spent his third year in what is called a junior opportunity class. That means he was a slow learner and had to be given special instruction in English and arithmetic. In his fourth year, he wasn't quite good enough to go back into the grade system, so he was placed in what is called a senior opportunity class. But there was nothing stupid about Charlie. The principal during his last year, Velda MacMillan, believed she got to know him well. "The thing we remember most about him was his sense of humour. If the teacher in the class made a joke, a play on words, he was always the first to catch on." Charlie wasn't a strong boy. In fact, he was thin and sickly. He carried an enormous, livid scar that ran in a loop from high on his right chest, down and up over his back. It meant that in early childhood his chest had been opened. Nobody knows exactly when or why. "Indian children's early medical records are practically impossible to track down," Kenora's public-health doctor, P. F. Playfair, later explained. The post-mortem that was later performed on Charlie by Dr. Peter Pan of Kenora showed that his lungs were seriously infected at the time of his death. On a Sunday afternoon, when Charlie had only another week to live, he was playing on the Cecilia Jeffrey grounds
Why did Charlie Wenjack Die? By Ian Adams Page 4 of 18 with two friends, Ralph and Jackie MacDonald. Ralph, thirteen, was always running away -- three times since the school term had started that fall. Jackie, only eleven, often played hooky. (In the three years he had been at the school, Charlie had never run away. But he had played hooky one afternoon just a week earlier, and for that he had been spanked by the principal, Colin Wasacase. ) The three made a spontaneous decision right there on the playground to run away. It was a sunny October after- noon, and they were wearing only light clothing. If they had planned it a little better, they could have taken along their parkas and overshoes. That might have saved Charlie's life.
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- Fall '19
- First Nations, Charlie, Canadian Indian residential school system