In opening a three-day assembly of chiefs from across the nation this afternoon (December 6), Downie was praised by AFN Nation Chief Perry Bellegarde for the work he had done in calling upon the Canadian government to rebuild relationships with the country's First Nations communities and bringing the story of Chanie Wenjack to light through the Secret Path project.
After taking the stage to a standing ovation, Downie took part in a small ceremony in which Bellegarde gave him the sacred gift of an eagle feather, along with a spiritual name "the man who walks among the stars." Downie was given other gifts from visiting chiefs as well, along with a "star blanket" made by the Dakota people. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also in attendance.
Downie also shared a few words of his own following the proceedings. "Soon, in a few days, a couple of weeks, there's 150 years that Canada wants to celebrate. I will personally then celebrate the birth of our country, celebrate the next 150 years."
He continued: "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 of our lives."
As previously reported, Secret Path was inspired by the story of Chanie Wenjack — a 12-year-old Ojibway boy who died from hunger and exposure while trying to escape a residential school 50 years ago. The album was accompanied by a graphic novel and an animated CBC television special, and has the potential to be worked into educational curriculums across the country.
Secret Path is out now through Arts & Crafts. Proceeds of record sales will go to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, which is dedicated to educating Canadians about the history of residential schools and moving towards a future of reconciliation.
Watch videos of the ceremony in the player below.
Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie honoured for work on reconciliation by AFN chiefs in special hunka ceremony https://t.co/pubuus0njp— Globalnews.ca (@globalnews) December 6, 2016
Gord Downie calls on Canadians to reconcile and heal the wounds left by residential schools during AFN ceremony https://t.co/gLNUlzkuR0— Globalnews.ca (@globalnews) December 6, 2016