The Assembly of First Nations honoured Canadian artist and Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie Tuesday in Gatineau, Que. for his work on Reconciliation.
In September, Downie released a graphic novel, music album and movie combo, The Secret Path, which tells the story of 12-year-old Ojibway boy, Chanie Wenjack, who died from hunger and exposure trying to escape from a residential school near Kenora, Ont. With The Secret Path, Downie aims to educate Canadians about Wenjack’s story and residential schools.
WATCH BELOW: Downie renews call for Canadians to heal residential school wounds
The Assembly gave Downie a star blanket and he participated in a naming ceremony; he was given the name Wicapi Omani, which means “walks with the stars” in the Lakota language. He was also presented with a specially commissioned painting and an eagle feather in front of the Chiefs-in-Assembly, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and members of the Downie family.
The blanket is traditionally wrapped around the recipient to convey warmth and to protect its wearer from loneliness, and it is considered a very high honour. Chiefs from across Canada have gathered for three days of meetings to discuss issues including resource development, the aboriginal youth suicide crisis and missing and murdered indigenous women.
“Gord Downie is shining a light on the inequality experienced by indigenous peoples,” said National Chief Bellegarde. “Today, we lift up and honour Gord Downie, whose words and music have introduced millions of Canadians to the story of Chanie Wenjack, a young boy who has come to represent the thousands of children subjected to the Residential Schools system, just one of the many who was taken from his family never to see them again.”
WATCH BELOW: PM hopeful Downie’s work on reconciliation will inspire other Canadians
“Gord’s devotion to sharing Chanie’s story with Canadians will help to open eyes to a tragic history and light the way to a brighter and more just future for our peoples. First Nations are gathered here under the theme ‘Advancing Reconciliation,’ and that’s exactly what Gord is doing through his work.”
Downie is currently touring for The Secret Path. Proceeds from the album and graphic novel will be donated to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.
Earlier in the day, Bellegarde called on indigenous people to take the lead in the fight against climate change — an issue sure to dominate the agenda for a first ministers gathering later this week in Ottawa.
Watch the emotional video at the top of the article.