Mutual Admiration Abundant for Downie, First Nations on a Hip Fishing Trip

Gord Downie was on tour that summer

He went on a fishing trip

The last(?) show he ever played

Stopped the country cold

Okay, enough. But the Hip did chill out from the Man Machine Poem tour by heading up into northern Ontario (without Justin Trudeau, apparently) to do a little fishing.

In one of his rare moments of overt, public and direct political commentary, Gord Downie used the spotlight during Saturday night’s Tragically Hip show in Kingston to praise Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his efforts to rectify mistreatment of the Northern First Nations.

Speaking from the stage to a rapt audience of more than 11 million people across the nation and untold numbers around the world (thanks again for the massive generosity and beautiful gesture, CBC), Downie said Trudeau “cares about the people way up north, that we were trained our entire lives to ignore—trained our entire lives to hear not a word of what’s going on up there. You know, Prime Minister Trudeau’s got me; his worth with First Nations. He’s got everybody. He’s going to take us where we need to go,” according to a CBC report.

Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, told the Toronto Star he was surprised and grateful for the message.  “To use a platform in that regard to focus on priorities and issues, it really speaks to his strength of character,” he told the Star this week.

The words and sentiment were especially powerful among the Attawapiskat First Nation, in Northern Ontario, where young men and women have been committing or attempting suicide in record numbers. The crisis there was the inspiration for “Goodnight Attawapiskat” on the Hip’s album Now For Plan A.

“Our young people have suffered so much, a lot of them tried to commit suicide,” said Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Bruce Shisheesh to the CBC.

In a video posted on Twitter earlier this week, Shisheesh thanked Downie for the attention he’s directed at Attawapiskat. “My community has suffered so much. Me and the young people had to wait for months for Trudeau to come and see… (the) overcrowding that triggers the suicide epidemic here in our community. Hopefully we can meet Prime Minister Trudeau in Attawapiskat. Obviously he stated he would visit our community, our lovely home, Attawapiskat, Ontario, which is located in James Bay coast…Again, thank you very much for thinking about us.”

Shisheesh told the CBC he’d enjoy the opportunity to honour Downie in Attawapiskat. “What an exciting event it would be for our youth (and make) them (feel) special and recognized” if Downie were to visit, he said.

It’s possible Shisheesh’s dream could become reality: on Wednesday, a photo was posted on Instagram of Downie with a small group of fans in what looks to be an airport. Turns out, Downie and his bandmates—Gord Sinclair, Paul Langlois, Rob Baker and Johnny Fay—and author Joseph Boyden went on a fishing trip to the James Bay Coast, led by aboriginal guides.  Whether he’ll be able to stop in and talk with Shisheesh remains to be seen.

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

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