Author Robert MacNain signing books


Robert MacBain at recent book signing in Toronto.
Photo courtesy of Marc Kealey.

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Lonely death of an Ojibway Boy by Robert MacBain


Drawing on the skills he honed as one of Canada’s highest-paid newspaper reporters and news director of the second-largest radio station in the 1960s, Toronto author Robert MacBain tells, for the first time, the true story of the short life and tragic death of Charlie (a.k.a. “Chanie”) Wenjack, Canada’s most famous Indian residential school student.

Books have been written about Charlie, the name his family has always used. Buildings named in his memory. He’s featured in more than 50 “Legacy Spaces” across Canada sponsored by banks, major retailers, universities, performing arts centres, governments and others.

Thousands of Canadians from coast to coast “Walk for Wenjack” every October.

Children in more than 65,000 classrooms across Canada and in the United States are being taught about his altogether too short life and tragic death in a book called Secret Path.

However, the story the children are being taught has very little basis in fact.

In search of the true story about Charlie Wenjack, MacBain interviewed former staff of the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, Ontario, who were there at the time his lifeless body was found lying beside the railway tracks about 24 hours after his death from “exposure to cold and wet” on October 22, 1966.

MacBain conducted considerable research, including newspaper reports, a lengthy magazine article, and official documents in order to develop a full understanding of the events that occurred.

He shares with his readers letters that have never been published from students expressing thanks for the care that they received at the school. A significant number called the principal and his wife “Mom” and “Dad” and signed their letters “Love”. Parents wrote saying their children told them they liked the school and that they also liked it when they were there.

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Their Home and Native Land

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau threatening bloodshed in 1983 if Aboriginal leaders try to set up their own independent government.

Ojibways fighting alongside Montcalm at the battle on the Plains of Abraham in 1759 and slaughtering English soldiers and civilians at Fort Michilimackinac in 1763.

Aboriginals forbidden to own their own homes or get a loan from the bank in 1969 and needing permission from an Indian agent to sell their chickens or cows.

Pregnant 13-year-olds at an Ojibway community in northwestern Ontario in 1997 where the houses are in good condition, satellite dishes bring in news and entertainment, cars and pick-ups are new or less than five years old, lawns are littered with toys – and 90% of the residents are on welfare with no hope of getting a job.

An Ojibway chief in northwestern Ontario prepared to go to war and die if the Canadian Army opened fire during the 78-day Mohawk standoff at Oka in 1990.

The devastating impact on an Ojibway community in northwestern Ontario when their lakes and rivers were poisoned with mercury from a British-owned pulp and paper mill.

The iron-clad control bureaucrats at the Department of Indian Affairs exercised over the lives of Aboriginal people and how well-meaning ministers were hobbled by the bureaucrats in Ottawa.

Making treaties with the scattered bands of Ojibways, Crees, Blackfoot and other tribes on the former Hudson’s Bay Company lands between Thunder Bay and the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains in 1871-77.

Aboriginals forced off fertile land reserved for them and their children under the treaties by greedy land speculators aided and abetted by corrupt government officials.

The first organized native protest march in Canadian history and the events and circumstances leading up to it.

How a culture clash between Aboriginals from western Canada and those from Quebec led to the demise of the National Indian Council which morphed into the National Indian Brotherhood in 1968 and today’s Assembly of First Nations in 1982.

Meet some truly remarkable and fascinating Ojibways, Mohawks and Crees whose positive approach to life – despite the conditions they live under – is truly inspirational.

They have stories worth telling, worth reading.