Michael Downie said he’s hopeful the work he and his brother Gord did to share the story of Chanie Wenjack will help inspire other Canadians towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. (Chris Ensing/CBC) Mike Downie sees Ontario’s move to include Indigenous history and culture as part of its curriculum as a sign his brother’s message of healing with Canada’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities is being heard.
The documentary filmmaker said the weeks since his brother and Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie died of brain cancer , have been difficult, but busy.
As one of the founders of the Downie Wenjack Fund aimed at connecting Canadians with different forms of reconciliation, he shared his message that it’s "time to get started" with students at the University of Windsor Thursday.
"I think for all Canadians there are ways to get involved," he said. "Reconciliation is the kind of thing that will take many, many Canadians if not all Canadians just doing their part. The big Hail Mary pass, the big government program is probably not going to get it done." Project inspired by tragedy
The Downie Wenjack Fund draws part of its name from the story of Chanie Wenjack, a young Indigenous boy who escaped a residential school and died while walking 600 kilometres along railroad tracks to try to get home.
It was a tale that struck Downie when he first heard it a few years ago.
"I could almost visualize the tracks," he said. During a lunch with Gord the next day, the brothers decided they wanted to share the story, which eventually became an animated film, solo album and graphic novel.
"I think a lot of people shy away from it because they maybe feel some guilt or just don’t know enough about it, but that’s where we all start."
While working to make the project a reality, Downie said his family and the Wenjacks almost became as one — a bond that’s still strong today.
‘I’m thrilled with how things have played out," he said. "I couldn’t be happier."
One recent change that Downie sees as a sign the country is moving the right direction is the fact Indigenous history and culture are now a mandatory part of Ontario’s curriculum.
He said teachers are the most important ally for the fund because they "introduce the kids, our next generation, with these ideas." Reconciliation starts with 3 simple steps
Helping solve the legacy of pain between Canada and its Indigenous peoples starts with three steps, he explained.
The first is awareness, the second education and the third is taking action. Downie said that final step offers every Canadian an opportunity to share their skills in a special way.
"I think a lot of people shy away from it because they maybe feel some guilt or just don’t know enough about it, but that’s where we all start," he added.
Gord may have passed on, but Downie said his brother’s legacy can live on through the fund and the actions of everyday Canadians."I hope my brother has played a small role in that. I know he reached a lot of people when he stood on the stage in Kingston at his last show and said ‘We need to look to these people we’ve been trained to ignore,’" he said. "I think Gord being Gord, put a spark to quite a big pile of kindling, but a lot of people have been working on these issues for a long time."
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