Willy Mitchell: Shot in the head by Maniwaki police 49 years ago

When Willy Mitchell heard about the young man shot in the head at the Maniwaki courthouse last week, the news brought back a flood of memories.

“It was like a big bang to me, in my memory,” said the 64-year-old Indigenous musician, who performs in Ottawa on Friday as part of the Native North America Gathering concert at the National Arts Centre. “What’s going on here?”

Almost 50 years ago, Mitchell survived a bullet to the head when he was a teenager living with his grandmother in Maniwaki. The “accident”, as he still calls it, happened on Jan. 23, 1969, when he was just 15 years old. Mitchell was shot by a police officer who suspected him of stealing Christmas lights.

He recalls the incident in detail, up to the moment he passed out. It was around 9:45 p.m., and he was putting up posters for an upcoming gig. The young Algonquin musician ran into two 14-year-old friends; one of them handed him a pair of light bulbs.