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Native leaders praise Gord

Aboriginal leaders praised Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie on Wednesday for showing the friendship required to heal the broken relationships between Indigenous Peoples and the rest of Canada.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said he knew Downie's death was coming, but he said it is still incredibly sad to know he's no longer alive.

In addition to the music he produced over the years, Downie will be remembered for his advocacy for Indigenous communities in the North and notably his project "Secret Path", Fiddler said.

That solo project honoured 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, who died in 1966 after running away from a residential school near Kenora, Ont.

Proceeds from the album and graphic novel are being donated to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.

"Gord often said he was struck by that story and he couldn't let go of it," Fiddler said in an interview. "He wanted to make it his mission to share that story with the rest of the country."

He also remembers when he was with Downie and Wenjack's sister Pearl last fall in Marten Falls First Nation, in northern Ontario.

"Unlike the rock star on stage with his music, he was very quiet," Fiddler said.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson said Downie chose to support Indigenous People through big actions in the final moments of his life.

"To me, it is like he stood right next to us and held us up, held our people up with us," she said.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said Downie was "an ally and friend" and referred to him as the man who "Walks Among the Stars" — a name given to the singer in late 2016 at an emotional ceremony at a special chiefs assembly in Gatineau, Que.

"I honour the life and work of Gord Downie, a dedicated and accomplished artist who used his profile to advance reconciliation and build support for First Nations peoples," Bellegarde said Wednesday in a statement.



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