In a solemn, heartwarming ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, The Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie was appointed a member of the Order of Canada “in recognition of outstanding Indigenous leadership.”
Sylvia Maracle, the executive director of the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC), was also appointed an officer of the Order of Canada “for her leadership in shaping the urban Indigenous experience and for her efforts to promote the well-being of Indigenous peoples across Canada” during the same ceremony.
Twenty-seven other awards were handed out to notable Canadians for their extraordinary service to the country, particularly in the area of Indigenous advancement and reconciliation.
Downie (after going in for a hug with Governor General David Johnston) appeared to be choking back tears while Johnston read off his achievements to the small crowd.
“Gord Downie is considered one of Canada’s most beloved artists,” said Johnston. “He is devoted to promoting dialogue about residential schools and working towards reconciliation.”
According to the office of the Governor General, Hip members Rob Baker, Johnny Fay, Paul Langlois and Gord Sinclair will receive their insignia at a later date.
In May 2016, Downie revealed he had been battling incurable brain cancer since December 2015. Shortly after, The Tragically Hip announced a 15-show tour in celebration of their latest studio album Man Machine Poem.
Following the Hip’s tour, Downie released a solo album and graphic novel named Secret Path, which tells the story of a 12-year-old Ojibway boy who died from hunger and exposure trying to escape from a residential school near Kenora, Ont.
Chanie Wenjack’s death sparked the first inquest into the treatment of Indigenous children in residential schools, where students were subjected to abuse, neglect and “re-programming” that has since been deemed cultural genocide.
In December, the Assembly of First Nations honoured Downie at an emotional ceremony for his work on reconciliation where his was given a star blanket and received the name Wicapi Omani or “walks with the stars.”
Maracle, a Mohawk from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory is known as a passionate advocate for urban indigenous peoples and women’s issues.
“It is a true honour,” Maracle said in a statement. “My hope is that this award continues to keep the issues of urban Indigenous people at the forefront of our national dialogue. There is still so much work to do.”
The Order of Canada is one of Canada’s highest civilian honours which recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.
— With files from Adam Frisk and The Canadian Press