ECHOES FROM THE PAST

The lonely death of Charlie Wenjack

Ian Adams December 25 1995
ECHOES FROM THE PAST

The lonely death of Charlie Wenjack

Ian Adams December 25 1995

The lonely death of Charlie Wenjack

Ian Adams

(February, 1967)

Like many native people today, Charlie Wenjack was lost in the white man’s world.

Charlie Wenjack would have been 13 years old on January 19, and it's possible that during his short and disturbed life someone may have taken a snapshot of him—

one of those laughing, open-faced, blurred little pictures one so often sees of children. But if a snap was taken, nobody knows where it is now. There are five police pictures of Charlie, though. They are large 8-by10 prints, grey and underexposed, showing the thin, crumpled little body of a 12-year-old boy with a sharpfeatured face. He is lying on his back and his thin cotton clothing is obviously soaked. His feet, encased in ankle-high leather boots, are oddly turned inward. In one of the photographs, an Ontario Provincial Police sergeant is pointing down at Charlie’s body, where it lies beside the CNR track. It is the exact spot where on the night of October 22 Charlie collapsed and died from exposure and hunger, just four-and-a-half feet from the trains that carry the white world by in warm and well-fed comfort. When they found Charlie, he didn’t have any identification. All they got out of his pockets was a little glass jar with a screw top. Inside were half a dozen wooden matches. They were all dry. And that’s all he had.

Charlie Wenjack was an Ojibway Indian attending Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, Ont. He became lonely and ran away. He died trying to walk 400 miles home to his father, who lives and works on an isolated reservation in Northern Ontario. It is unlikely that Charlie ever understood why he had to go to school and why it had to be such a long way from home. It is even doubtful if his father really understood either.