Friday, June 2, 2017

June 2017: Wenjack by Joseph Boyden

Image result for wenjack bookWenjack by Joseph Boyden

Meeting at Tamara's place, June 8.  (address and contact coming via email.) Come at 7:30, with discussion starting at 8:00

Wenjack Discussion questions:

1)      Did you enjoy the book?  Why or why not?
2)      Along the way Chanie is followed by Manitous, “spirits of the forest who comment on his plight, cajoling, taunting, and ultimately offering him a type of comfort on his difficult journey back to the place he was so brutally removed from.”  Why did Boyden use the voices of the Manitous to tell part of the story?
3)      Were you angry that the uncle of the other boys wanted Chanie to go away - To go back to school?
4)      This book was written in a very unique way. What did you think of the writing style?
5)      What was the most heart-wrenching part of this book for you?
6)      Since this is a work of historical fiction (although based on a true story) do you feel that Boyden used stereotypes of residential schools to tell his story?
7)      In a CBC interview, Boyden said that “Wenjack is a "little book with a big heart," and he hopes that anyone who picks up the book will be able to feel the sadness, hope and empathy behind the story. "I want the reader to be Chanie."   Did he succeed for you…were you able to “be” Chanie?
8)      What do you think was the ultimate purpose of writing “Wenjack”? If Boyden’s purpose for the novel was to highlight the horror of residential schools…did he succeed?  If his purpose was to tell the story of Charlie Wenjack…did he succeed? Or are the two stories really the same?
9)      Boyden has said that Canada is “a haunted house”.  In what way?  Why is it important for Canadians to know the story of Charlie Wenjack?
10)  Have you read/heard of “Secret Path” the graphic novel/music album/animated film produced by Gord Downie (of the Tragically Hip and a friend of Boyden) and Jeff Lemire? (Also about Charlie Wenjack).  Is the fact that they were published around the same time a coincidence? Was it good/bad for each work?
11)   Had you heard about Chanie Wenjack before this book or Gord Downie’s The Secret Path were published last year?
12)   It seems unbelievable that the last residential school in Canada didn’t close until the mid-90s. When did you first learn about residential schools? Do you remember learning about residential schools in class? Do you feel that it was discussed enough?
13)   With the recent highlighting of residential schools by popular artists like Boyden and Downie, what do you think should be the response of Canadians?
14)   What is the role of the artist (like Boyden or Downie) in making change?

15)   After the success of “Three Day Road”, Boyden received awards for native literature, has been a paid speaker on indigenous topics, and become a “voice” to highlight aboriginal causes (native history, residential schools, missing aboriginal women etc.).  Boyden has claimed to be inspired by his uncle Erl, who “lived a traditional aboriginal” life.  However, in recent months, there has been a lot of controversy over Boyden’s claim to have aboriginal ancestry.  (Lots to find on google)!  Throughout the years, he has claimed heritage in a half-dozen native tribes – none proven.  Many of his claims have been debunked and he himself remains somewhat vague.  And his Uncle Erl was a proven fraud who sold souvenirs from a teepee by Algonquin park in the 50s.
 Many indigenous authorities (like Kim TallBear) would say that Belonging to particular community can (and should) mean sharing beliefs and cultural practices - and even official membership or citizenship. Not just genetic material.  Does this information cast a shadow over his ability to speak for aboriginals; or over the truth of how he writes?  Does it affect how you view him; or how you view the issues he highlights?  If he is actually non-native, does this change how you view the writing of “Wenjack”?

For some further reading on the controversy:

For a readable version of the 1967 MacLean’s article that Ian Adams wrote which brought the story of Chanie Wenjack to light, look to:

"The Secret Path" by Gord Downie is available on youtube or

Woodland Ojibway people ate meat, berries, wild rice, fruits, vegetables, and maple syrup…
Any Native dish, or element of these foods.  Here are some ideas to get started, but feel free to add your own ideas!

Main Dishes:
Anything prepared with maple syrup
 - Baked Brie with Maple Syrup and pecans - Tessa
The one meal that we read about in the book is from the fish, so… a fish dish! 
 - Salmon with maple glaze - Karen
Wild rice and bacon: - Chandra
Mushroom, Ham and Wild Rice Soup - Danielle
Native bread…Indian Fry Bread - Emily (or some bread!)

Anything with maple syrup
Fresh berries - Melissa

Berry cobbler - Erica

Drinks: -  Tamara


  1. I'll bring a berry cobbler!

  2. I'll bring the wild rice and bacon.

  3. I'll bring a maple syprup appetizer: baked brie and maple and pecans (and some crackers)

  4. I'll bring berries and maybe look for a maple syrup fruit dip

  5. I hope to come! And I'm bring soup - Mushroom, Ham and Wild Rice Soup (I hope that's ok..sorry it's not fish :( )

  6. Ill bring some salmon with a maple glaze.


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