WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.
A singer from northern Quebec has written and shared an emotional song in Cree dedicated to residential school survivors and the children who didn’t make it home.
Reuben Wapachee said he was inspired to write the song after unmarked graves of 215 children were found this past summer on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. Since then, hundreds of other unmarked graves have been found across the country.
The song’s title, Anjobweh Indwaseem, is a Cree expression which doesn’t translate easily into English, says Wapachee. He said it’s a cry out from a parent to a child.
He said part of the song is written from the perspective of parents watching their children being taken away to residential school.
“It explains … how the mother felt or the father felt … standing there. The emotion must have been really strong. Tears must have been shed,” said Wapachee, who shared the video on social media on Monday. It has since been viewed more than 1,000 times.
“It’s just a cry out to their child. A very hard, emotional cry out to the child from the parents,” said Wapachee, who said in his post that the video recording was one of the first times he was able to get through the song without breaking down.
Both Wapachee’s parents are residential school survivors and he and his older sister went to day school in Mistissini and lived away from home. He said the news about unmarked graves brought up a lot of difficult emotions for him.
“All of us were taken away from our community, my parents came home … others never made it home. That’s why it touched me,” said Wapachee.
The 46-year-old is a member of an all-Cree band called Miigwin and lives in Nemaska, Que., which is located more than 1,000 kilometres north of Montreal.
He wrote the song over the course of a month earlier this year.
“I sort of took my time because there were times where … it would just be too hard,” said Wapachee.
“There were times when I had to put my guitar away and take a deep breath.
“I was just trying to lay out a story of how each person felt … our grandmothers and grandfathers … our mothers and our fathers,” said Wapachee.
He said writing and singing the song has helped him.
“When I first heard the news I was angry …. [but] music brings healing. Music is healing,” said Wapachee, adding he hopes it helps others deal with difficult emotions, and has been getting messages from people that the song is helping them.
“To the people who have heavy hearts, you will get through this, believe in yourself. You can help yourselves,” said Wapachee. “God bless you all.”
Wapachee’s band, Miigwin, is working on a non-acoustic version to include on a 10-song album they are working on.
The Cree health board operates the Wiichihiiwaauwin (Mental Health Helpline) at 1-833-632-4357. Support is available in Cree 24/7.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.