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Hundreds of Toronto students 'Walk for Wenjack' to understand shameful past of residential schools

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Students from a Toronto elementary school walked in Chanie Wenjack’s memory Thursday in the hopes of moving toward truth and reconciliation.

Wenjack was only a boy when he was forced into a northwestern Ontario residential school. In Oct. 1966, Wenjack escaped and attempted to travel 600 kilometres back to his First Nation. He died about 60 kilometres from the school.

Six-hundred students from Kindergarten to Grade 1 walked the one-kilometre route representing a total of 600 kilometres.

The walk was a first at Jackman Avenue Junior Public School — an attempt to understand what Wenjack went through at the institution and when he ran away.

“He was one of the people who stood up for himself and left that horrible place,” Grade 6 student, Sebastian Wong, told CTV News Toronto.

“I think he was really brave and handled it really well. It’s just a really sad story,” Grade 5 student, Laika Hempel, said.

Grade 5 student Laika Hempel

Gord Downie’s 2016 album and film brought Wenjack’s story to a large audience. Called ‘Charlie’ at the school, he was one of an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children forced into residential schools acrossa Canada — taken from their communities and culture.

Grade 1 teacher Zoe Rankin is one of two teachers who spearheaded the walk.

“Chanie Wenjack’s story is a tragic one, but it’s not an uncommon one, and the more awareness we can promote to these topics, I think the better,” Rankin said.

In addition to walking, students sang and made signs — raising more than $4,000 for the Downie and Wenjack Fund.

“What our settlers did back then was really unfair,” Hempel said.

“We should always be fair and put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, and think how you would feel if that had been done to you.”

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