Gord Downie closed his eyes and wept while indigenous leaders honoured him for his work bringing new national attention to Canada’s sordid legacy of residential schools.
The Tragically Hip frontman was wrapped in a star blanket — representative of love, kindness, protection and warmth — during the Assembly of First Nations special chiefs meeting in Gatineau, Que. on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Gord Downie is honoured with a blanketing ceremony by Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde and his wife Valerie Galley during a ceremony honouring Downie at the in Gatineau, Que. on Dec. 6. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Downie is presented with a star blanket at the AFN Special Chiefs assembly in Gatineau, Que. on Dec. 6. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Symbolizing a gateway to the heavens, the eight-pointed star mirrors a compass and its eight cardinal directions, explained Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia Regional Chief Morley Googoo.
Presented with an eagle feather, Downie was also given a Lakota spirit name Wicapi Omani, which roughly translates to “Man who walks among the stars.”
Googoo elaborated on the meaning behind the earthly name.
“At some point, all of us here on this Earth — when we’re all done with our time here on this Earth life — we will all be on our journey to be with the star people, our ancestors," he said.
“We must walk down a path of reconciliation from now on. Together and forever.”
— Gord Downie
Downie, who went public with his diagnosis of terminal brain cancer earlier this year, reminded delegates there’s several lifetimes’ worth of work ahead in the pursuit of reconciliation with Canada’s First Peoples.
He released an album and graphic novel titled “Secret Path” in October to commemorate the short life of Chanie Wenjack. The 12-year-old died in 1966 when he escaped the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School near Kenora, Ont. to find his way home.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood behind as Downie spoke.
“We must walk down a path of reconciliation from now on. Together and forever. This is the first day of forever,” Downie said.
Read Downie’s full remarks:
Soon in a few days, a couple 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’ll take 150 years or seven generations to heal the wound of the residential school. 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 our lives. Thank you.
Watch a clip from the ceremony below: