The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund Benefit Concert has raised $10,000 to support awareness, education, and acts of reconciliation between the First Peoples and the settlers of Turtle Island/Canada.
“We had a packed house and a wonderful evening of music, humour, dance, and poetry,” say Melodie McCullough and Sue Nelson, who organized the event.
“Thanks to the overwhelming generosity and support of the Nogojiwanong/Peterborough community, we were able to raise a significant amount of funds to donate to the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund.”
The concert, held on May 11, 2018 at the Market Hall, raised funds through ticket sales, sponsorships from local businesses and community organizations along with a silent auction.
More than 300 people attended the sold-out event that featured both Indigenous and non-Indigenous performers. Hoop dancer Crystal “Beany” John, the Wshkiigomang Women’s Hand Drum Group from Curve Lake First Nation, and spoken word artist Keara Lightning were joined by Mayhemingways, the Thomas A. Stewart Jazz Combo Band, and headliners The Sadies.
“Last October we set out with a goal of raising $10,000 and that’s exactly what we achieved,” say Nelson and McCullough. “The enthusiastic community response is such an encouraging sign of the good intentions of so many in the spirit of reconciliation.”
The event was emceed by Curve Lake author and playwright Drew Hayden Taylor, and residential school survivor Shirley Williams (a member of the Bird Clan of the Ojibway and Odawa First Nations of Canada and Professor Emeritus of the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies at Trent University) delivered the welcoming prayer.
Mike Downie, who co-founded the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund (DWF) in 2016 with his late brother Gord and the Wenjack family, attended the event along with his siblings Patrick and Paula.
The contribution of the Nogojiwanong/Peterborough community was recognized by DWF on their Facebook page on Friday (May 25):
“A big thank you from the Downie Wenjack Fund goes to the organisers, artists and musicians and everyone who came to support the DWF Benefit in Peterborough. A sold-out event! Thank you!”
The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund seeks to promote and inspire grassroots and community-based acts of reconciliation across the country. It supports activities that bring together Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth, such as canoe trips, hockey exchanges, a rugby program, and an Arctic expedition.
The fund was established about a year before Gord Downie’s death from brain cancer in 2017, and arose two years after The Tragically Hip front man created The Secret Path, a personal project to tell the story of Chanie Wenjack through an music album, graphic novel, and documentary.
Gord was inspired to develop The Secret Path after learning about Chanie, a 12-year-old Anishinaabe boy who died from exposure on October 22, 1966, after escaping his forced confinement at Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School near Kenora and attempting to walk the almost 600 kilometres back to his family home on the Marten Falls First Nation in Manitoba.
The Wenjack Theatre and the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies at Trent University in Peterborough are both named in honour of Chanie.