The Indigenous community in the Peterborough area hope Gord Downie’s passion for reconciliation will live on.
The frontman for the Tragically Hip died Tuesday night after a battle with brain cancer. While he’s best known for his rock music hits, he was also a tireless crusader for Indigenous Peoples.
Officials at Trent University describe Downie’s death as a “tremendous loss.”
“He has become such a voice for Indigenous people and to have that voice cut short in this manner is such a loss,” said Dr. Dawn Lavell-Harvard, Trent University’s First Peoples House of Learning director.
Curve Lake First Nation Chief Phyllis Williams says Downie’s determination set him apart from others.
“Usually when people are sick, they really deal with their illness first but this fellow, he was still doing work; he was still doing good work,” she said.
Among Downie’s work was Secret Path, his last solo album. It was inspired by Chanie Wenjack, the 12-year-old Indigenous boy who died after running away from a residential school in 1966. The story also inspired an animated film.
“There has been a lot of sorrow here at the First Peoples House of Learning at the School of Indigenous Studies because he was such a leader in helping to bring that school forward, to help bring that story forward,” said Lavell-Harvard.
But there is concern that Downie’s death will stall progress he made.
“We need to seize the opportunity when people like Gord come along and build those relationships,” said Williams. “The moment’s here and reconciliation is very much alive.”
Lavell-Harvard says Downie’s death can’t become the end of the story.
“We need to remember; to honour the cause that he took on; to carry that forward,” she said.
Williams believes Downie’s brother Mike will pick up the mantle for Indigenous causes.
“I expect that he will pick up that trail that Gord has started,” said Williams. “He was just again another passionate individual, very supportive of the work his brother has down. Very proud.”