Secret Path Legacy Room Initiative brings reconciliation to corporations

Project targeting hospitality industry ensures Chanie Wenjack story ‘continues to be told’

Chief Morley Googoo, Pearl Wenjack and Mike Downie after they announced the Legacy Room Initiative.
Chief Morley Googoo, Pearl Wenjack and Mike Downie after they announced the Legacy Room Initiative.   Madi Haslam

The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund wants the Canadian hospitality industry to commit to reconciliation by taking part in the Legacy Room Initiative.

Downie’s brother Mike Downie, Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Morley Googoo and Chanie’s sister Pearl Wenjack announced the project in Halifax before Downie’s Secret Path show Tuesday night.

The initiative asks businesses to designate spaces or rooms with plaques in the name of the Tragically Hip’s frontman and Wenjack, the 12-year-old Ojibwe boy who died running away from his residential school in 1966 who inspired Downie’s Secret Path project.

“We need to make sure this story continues to be told,” said Googoo at the announcement. “We can’t just talk about it now and forget about it tomorrow when there are no more concerts.”

The fund hopes to have 100 businesses across the country sign up in the next six months. Participating companies will also make annual contributions to the Downie Wenjack fund, which donates its profits to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

Last year, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on Canadian corporations to introduce a reconciliation framework to their policies and activities.

“Reconciliation comes in many forms and a lot of corporate Canada doesn’t know their part,” said Googoo. “First, it’s to continue the dialogue (around reconciliation),” said Googoo, using restaurants as a business example. “It’s when people are together eating that those kinds of conversations happen.”

Pearl Wenjack traveled to Halifax from her home in the remote Ogoki Post, Ont. She said the Legacy Room Initiative is a plan she “never even dreamed about.”

“It all started with the Creator bringing two families together to tell a story — some people that are nationally known and some people that just live in a bush,” she said. “I’m glad that we have come this far in telling this story.”

Downie’s Halifax show is his third live performance of the 10-song Secret Path album, which is part of the Secret Path project that also includes a graphic novel by Jeff Lemire and an animated video.

Profits from concerts will go to the Downie Wenjack Fund.

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