Published Sunday, July 2, 2017 6:57PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, July 2, 2017 8:23PM EDT
OTTAWA — Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie made a rare public appearance Sunday to bring attention to the ongoing plight of some of Canada’s young indigenous people, likening it to the same kind of pain young people suffered in the now defunct residential schools.
He told young people gathered at festivities surrounding “We Day,” the movement inspired by children’s rights activist brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger, that they can learn a lot about the history of government-funded, church-run residential schools, where indigenous children endured widespread sexual, emotional and physical abuse.
Standing on the stage set up on Parliament Hill for Canada Day weekend, Downie said that indigenous children in parts of Canada still must travel great distances to go to school, likening it to “the pain, the torture and the death,” suffered in the residential schools.
Indigenous leaders say children regularly leave to the nearest urban centre to get education and health care services not offered in remote communities. There have been cases where the young people have died because get caught up in risky behaviour because they lack community supports.
“It is still happening even though the residential school has gone away. Kids are still having to travel great distances to live and go to school,” Downie said, with silence filling the pauses between his words.
Downie is suffering from an incurable form of brain cancer and makes few public appearances, but has used those to be a voice for the country’s indigenous peoples and the harm caused by the residential school system.
One day after the country marked 150 years, Downie used his brief time on stage to speak about the “new” country that would be born in the next 150 years.
“Yours is the first generation in the new and real Canada. I love you,” he said to applause.
“You and yours, the indigenous, together will make this a true country now, one true to your word. The new 150 years, not the old one. The new one. Exciting and true.”
The path to reconciliation was a key theme of the Canada Day weekend in the nation’s capital, which saw a group of indigenous activists erect a demonstration teepee on Parliament Hill as part of what they called a “reoccupation” to bring attention to the history of indigenous people. It was removed on Sunday.
The federal Liberals have been the focus of political heat over the party’s sweeping promises to First Nations, amid increasing pressure to comply with a human rights tribunal’s order to properly fund First Nations child welfare services.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Downie and those in attendance that Canadians and their government must accept responsibility for “our failings” as the country tries to help victims and their families heal decades-old wounds.
“Gord, your work is a powerful reminder of all that still needs to be done to acknowledge one of the darkest chapters in our history and make things right with Canada’s First Nations, Metis Nation, and Inuit peoples.”
After Trudeau spoke, a school choir performed Downie’s song “The Stranger,” the lead track off his solo album Secret Path that tells the story of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack. Wenjack died in 1966 after running away from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, Ont.
Downie had previously performed the song at a “We Day” event in Toronto in October. This time, he stood to the side, appearing emotional at times, and tipping his hat to the choir when they all donned sparkling purple hats similar to the one Downie wore during the Hip’s last tour last year.
As the choir walked off the stage, Downie shook the singers’ hands and thanked them.
It is Sunday, the sun shone. It sprinkled a bit, otherwise it was a great day.
Read: A great day is a day that I can sleep in and enjoy my bed.
Three Jewish men, all of the Hasidim faith, walk into a meeting. One is new and knows God, The second is sober 6 years, and knows Spiritual Experience and God, The Third a man of faith says … “He does not know God, an does not connect to Him, and firmly believes that Once you’re dead, it’s Lights Out and nothing more.”
It was a bright Sunday and I wore my brightest and flashiest Flower Basket pants, and after the meeting, that man walked up to me and said:
I Feel Uplifted because of your presence…
We read from Bill’s story and the last few pages, where Bill explains his spiritual experience and his witness of God in his life. He had that conversation with Ebby T. in his kitchen, and that night, has his first radical spiritual experience in his journey.
He makes a sundry pass at the steps, within his story, Steps that will be fleshed out much later as the book comes into fruition.
I like to tell my friends that if they need proof that there is a God, they need only to look at me and listen to me talk. On Saturday, I will pass my twenty-third anniversary living with AIDS, and Mark and I are still alive to this day, when over 200 of our friends went to their deaths miserably so many years ago.
One of my elder friends went to a meeting this morning and heard an old-timer with 45 years sobriety talk about Meditation. For this man, the steps are there, but the ONLY step he concerns his life with is Step 11.
Prayer and Meditation.
Prayer and Meditation does not come easy to anyone. I’ve heard many, many, long sober people talk about attempting meditation on retreats, in religious communities and still, so many years later, they cannot connect like very few can connect with meditation.
Our man lives and breathes meditation. His story strikes many deeply, when we sit with him and he talks about just how deep his meditation changed his life, and has carried him through some of the worst times in his life, we are amazed.
Because many of us, cannot even begin to know, what that feels like.
In my life, to this day, I don’t connect to deep meditation beyond the practice I do daily. I can sit still, I can be quiet, but I cannot sit for an hour at a time stilling my mind all the way through. Because I don’t know how to shut it up for that long.
I can say that, in my stillness, I can connect to God. I can connect to the Spirit. That feeling of connection is familiar to me, and it comes and goes. When it does come, I can hear the voice of God, and I hear what it says, and I listen attentively.
Inspiration comes at the oddest times, usually, in my morning meditations, and more often, at the end of the night, when I sit down to compose my Pastoral Letters to the Pastors I have in my circle. When I sit and read scripture, and write my Elder friend Spencer, or even, as I sit here, where I am right this moment, writing here.
Sometimes words come, that are not my own, they come from a place of inspiration and God. That is my belief.
I know that if I don’t hear from God directly, that I need to go to a meeting, and listen to my friends talk. My friends come from varied backgrounds. Some are just simple men and women, and some come from deeply religious communities.
Our man, this evening, who could not find God himself, just showed up, because his friends, other Hasidic men, in the program, bring him with them. They minister to him in their own ways, and do not push orthodoxy upon him, but they allow him to find his way, on his own steam.
He got to read part of Bill’s story, and he heard each of us share about God and Spiritual experience. Simply being present for a fellow-man on the path, sitting with us, after the meeting, he found the blessing of being uplifted, by a simple piece of clothing.
That simple piece of clothing I own is a story maker. Because it came from my friend Jeffrey, when he sent me them, saying that if I wore them, I would feel really good about myself, and I do. And in being in public feeling good about myself, others see and they feel good about themselves, because it seems, in recovery:
That we are so sunk in our disease, that at some point we need permission to feel anything other than self loathing and being depressed about ourselves.
I am in this place where I am more open to feel emotions. I am a bit more outspoken and rigorously honest, to a degree that sometimes scares my friends, but it is what it is.
I am more apt, not that had ever been different, to really tell you like it is, based on my life experience. I’ve been witnessing my friends fuck off on me for a long time, so I can tell you just what I think, in real-time.
July is a hard month for me. Because I am reminded of just how bad my life really got and how I almost went to my death, several times.
It is also a testament to the work that Todd (read: God) did in my life, to keep me alive, and the testament in the fact that ONE HUMAN BEING can definitely change a life.
And keep another human being alive, when all the odds are stacked against him/her.
It is also my birth month, and this year I hit the Fifty mark.
Another HUGE accomplishment, because I am still alive, all these years later.
There is definitely a God in Heaven.
This is my testimony. It is honest and true.
If not for Bill and Doctor Bob, we would all not be here, save for two drunks who happened upon one another, one night in Akron Ohio in 1935.
We are truly Blessed …