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Gord Downie takes to Parliament Hill to speak out for Canada’s Indigenous peoples

Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie says Canada’s young Indigenous people are still suffering the same kind of pain young people suffered in the now defunct residential schools.

Downie made a rare public appearance on Parliament Hill Sunday at festivities surrounding We Day, the movement started by children’s rights activist Craig Kielburger.

Downie told the crowd that young Indigenous children in parts of the Canada still must travel great distances to go to school.

We Day 20170702

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau embraces Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie, as Daisy Wenjack, left, and Pearl Wenjack look on at We Day on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Sunday, July 2, 2017. Downie’s project “Secret Path” tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, who died in 1966 escaping a residential school. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

He told young people gathered at We Day that they can learn a lot about the history of church-run residential schools, where children suffered emotional and physical abuse.

“Now we begin a new 150 years. We leave behind the first 150 years, the ones with one big problem — trying to wipe out our Indigenous people, to take their minds and hearts, to give them the choice [to] become white or get lost,” he said.

“It’s time to listen to the stories of the Indigenous [people], to hear stories about now. We are blessed as a young country to be able to look to the wisdom of a really, really old country.”

Downie was flanked on stage by Daisy and Pearl Wenjack. His project “Secret Path” tells the story of their brother Chanie Wenjack, who died in 1966 escaping a residential school

Downie is suffering from an incurable form of brain cancer and makes few public appearances.

Gord Downie at We Day0:44

Next 150 years

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also attended the We Day event and took to the stage to thank Downie.

Earlier Trudeau told the crowd that young people will be key in building a Canada that is made up of trust, openness and love.

“We see some places in the world where [differences] create fault lines and divisions, what we see in Canada is those become a source of strength. We learn from each other, we learn from our different experiences. We lean on our neighbours … that is going to be the secret to the future of the country,” he said.

“That’s something my generation needs to learn but your generation gets deeply already.”

The five-hour event also featured appearances by Governor-General David Johnston, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, Chris Hadfield, Penny Oleksiak and P.K. Subban and performances from the Barenaked Ladies, Nelly Furtado and Hedley.

At 6:50 p.m. the Parliamentary Protective Service, which oversees security on the Hill grounds, says about 14,000 people attended Sunday’s event.

It lacked the long waits at security checkpoints that frustrated some people trying to get to Saturday’s shows on Parliament Hill.

Trudeau’s speech at We Day5:28

CBC | Arts News