(February 6, 1964 – October 17, 2017)
Canadians lost a true musical icon this year. Tragically Hip’s frontman Gord Downie passed away on October 17th after a less than two-year battle with an aggressive and incurable form of brain cancer, called glioblastoma. According to a statement released on the band’s website, Downie passed away surrounded by his family; he was only 53 years old.
Originally from Kingston, Ontario, Canada, The Tragically Hip (formed in 1983), was a talented and renowned Canadian rock group.
Downie was an iconic public figure, known not only for his music but for his work and dedication to Indigenous people. Downie used his platform to stand up for Indigenous rights.
“Gord had the ability to reach people who might not be otherwise engaged in our issues,” said Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde. “[It] illustrates his commitment to justice and his belief that every Canadian has a role to play in reconciliation.”
One of his many initiatives was the multi-media project The Secret Path based on Downie’s poems and music about a 12-year old Anishinaabe (Ojibway) boy named Chanie Wenjacka who died in 1966 when running away from a residential school in Ontario, Canada.
The Secret Path helped bring awareness to Canada’s history and the need for reconciliation, and all proceeds from the project are donated to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.
“He’s a national hero,” said Rush frontman Geddy Lee. “He wanted to go out doing what he loved to do, and trying to do as much good with the time he had left, so for me that’s a courageous act.”
In December 2016, Downie was honoured for his work advocating for Indigenous rights with a naming ceremony. Wrapped in a star blanket, in the presence of Elders and Chiefs, Grand Chiefs, and other delegates at the AFN’s Special Chiefs Assembly, he was presented with an eagle feather and given the name Wicapi Omani, which is Lakota for “Walks Among the Stars.”
“Canadians and Indigenous people have been so blessed that he gave us the last moments of his life,” said AFN Nova Scotia- Newfoundland Regional Chief Morley Googoo. “Most people, when faced with seeing their end, would not be so generous but it was clear to everyone Gord had an important legacy to fulfill.”
Gord Downie in uenced a countless number of people through his music, his art and his life. Thank you Gord Downie for your music, your commitment and your dedication – you will be truly missed.