Gord Downie, lead singer of the Tragically Hip and an advocate for First Nations people, was honoured at the Assembly of First Nations gathering Tuesday for his work highlighting the impact of residential schools.
Downie's most recent project, Secret Path, tells the story of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, who died in 1966 trying to escape from a residential school near Kenora, Ont. An excerpt of the documentary film was played for the chiefs assembled in Gatineau, Que.
National Chief Perry Bellegarde presented the visibly emotional Downie with an eagle feather — a gift from the creator above — and he was given a Lakota spirit name, Wicapi Omani, which can be roughly translated as "Man who walks among the stars."
Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia Regional Chief Morley Googoo said Downie was a living embodiment of the push to reconcile relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
An emotional Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watched as Downie was showered with song and wrapped in a "star blanket."
Path of reconciliation
"Soon, in a few days, a couple of weeks, there's 150 years that Canada wants to celebrate, and I will personally then celebrate the birth of our country, celebrate the next 150 years. It will take 150 years or seven generations to heal the wound of the residential school," Downie said after receiving the blanket.
"To become a country, and truly call ourselves Canada, it means we must become one. We must walk down a path of reconciliation from now on. Together, and forever. This is the first day of forever: the greatest day of my life, the greatest day of all of our lives. Thank you."
Chiefs from across the country brought presents to Downie, but were asked to not present them to him personally due to health concerns as he undergoes treatment for brain cancer.