I visited Benjamin Chee Chee’s grave today, Sunday, April 23. Chee Chee and I were casually acquainted back in the 1970’s. I knew him only as an up-and-coming artist who was making a name for himself in Ottawa. He was never troublesome nor violent! He was generous and kind-hearted! From what I observed, Chee Chee was the type of guy who would give you the coat off his back on a freezing day. From what I know, he had one flaw, he was overly friendly, often sitting down at a table in a bar with strangers. He was just being friendly!
Benjamin Chee Chee had the misfortune of being placed at the Alfred Reform School as a young lad. He was severely mistreated there by the ‘Christian Brothers’ who ran the ‘school’. Long after Chee Chee’s death, a law suit against the school was filed by its former attendees. A monetary settlement was eventually reached. One of the school’s survivors told, in a newspaper interview, about how Chee Chee would be beaten near to unconsciousness by the Brothers. “They wanted him to cry,” said the survivor, “but Chee Chee never did. They kicked him and beat him with their fists but Benjamin never gave in.”
I ask that you ‘Google’ Benjamin Chee Chee. Look into his eyes. Imagine the great degree of suffering this great artist saw in his 33 years of life. Put tobacco down for him to smoke with his ancestors. Feast him for the trailblazer that he was. Look at his artworks! Ask yourself, what inspired him? What spirit stood by his side when his brush touched the canvas?
Benjamin Chee Chee was born in the springtime of the year. A spring baby! His birth season gave him his sweet disposition (maple sweet water, syrup). The northbound geese of spring gave him his love of geese, the respect he had for them (see his paintings). Spring, the season of water, gave him the flowing brushstrokes he rolled across a canvas to create those striking works of art.
Chee Chee left this world during the time of the Sugar Moon. His spirit no doubt swiftly ascended into the sky to fly with the geese of the season to his northern birth home, Temagami. The lake, the old pines, the gray jay, the trout – how grand was their welcoming of his spirit? We can only imagine!
Benjamin Chee Chee was a gentle soul. Men, artists such as he are not celebrated enough.
Keep the Circle Strong,
South Wind (Albert Dumont)