Gord Downie remembered for raising awareness of Indigenous issues
Canadian singer Gord Downie, 53, has passed away from terminal brain cancer.
Downie, lead singer of The Tragically Hip, was diagnosed with cancer in December 2015.
“Last night Gord quietly passed away with his beloved children and family close by,” said a statement posted on thehip.com.
Downie united a diverse array of music lovers with his commanding stage presence and Canadiana-laced lyrics.
Downie was also an advocate for First Nations people.
On Wednesday, Indigenous leaders praised Downie’s contribution to reconciliation as they mourned the musician’s death.
According to CBC News Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler released a statement in the wake of the announcement of Downie’s death.
“Words cannot express our sorrow and our thoughts and prayers are with Gord’s brothers Mike and Patrick, and all of their family and friends,” Fiddler was quoted as saying in a written release. “My dear friend took the country by storm last year with his heartfelt call to action, and exposed dark truths about this country like no one before him.”
In December 2016, Downie was honoured at an Assembly of First Nations gathering for his work highlighting the impact of residential schools.
National Chief Perry Bellegarde presented Downie with an eagle feather and he was given a Lakota spirit name, Wicapi Omani, which can be roughly translated as “Man who walks among the stars.”
Downie’s concept album, Secret Path, tells the story of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, who died in 1966, while trying to escape from a residential school near Kenora, Ont.
The album, accompanied by a graphic novel and film, shone a spotlight on a topic that Downie believed had been ignored for too long.
First Nations leaders and artists alike expressed gratitude to Downie for the recognition of the legacy of residential schools and his call for all Canadians to learn the stories of the thousands of children who died there.
“I am honoured and humbled to support the Secret Path project,” Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson said.
“When you have someone with that fortitude and passion to speak out on our behalf it’s this overwhelming feeling of gratefulness because he can touch different audiences that we can’t,” Tanya Tagaq told VICE
Isadore Day, the Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief of Ontario, echoed this sentiment.
“I felt very grateful that someone of his stature would take to the cause and really lift up our people through his music and his stellar reputation.”
“I honour the life and work of Gord Downie, a dedicated and accomplished artist who used his profile to advance reconciliation and build support for First Nations peoples,” Bellegarde said Wednesday in a statement.
In June, for his work raising awareness of Indigenous issues, Downie received the Order of Canada (Canada’s highest honour for a civilian), he was appointed to the Order.
Downie’s death is an “incredible loss to Canada”, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said as she thanked him for the role he played in reconciliation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also released a statement about Downie’s passing.
“Gord did not rest from working for the issues he cared about, and his commitment and passion will continue to motivate Canadians for years to come.”
“On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to Gord’s family, friends, bandmates and crew members, and his many, many fans. He will be sorely missed.”