Arts & Entertainment story of the year
A high-profile Canadian rock band putting on a show in a James Bay community to help dispel the negative press First Nations received in the wake of the Attawapiskat housing crisis is the arts and entertainment story of the year.
More than 500 people descended upon Fort Albany First Nation to see the iconic Canadian band The Tragically Hip perform on Feb. 16 during Mushkegowuk’s annual Great Moon Gathering.
The Great Moon Gathering focuses on both traditional and contemporary Aboriginal education and aims to educate teachers who are often from other parts of Canada about the history and culture of the Mushkegowuk Cree. But this year, organizer Ed Metatawabin wanted to make the gathering an even more special event.
He asked author Joseph Boyden, known for his award-winning novels Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce – which feature Mushkegowuk people as the main characters – to be the keynote speaker at the gathering. And he made an additional request.
“He says, ‘Oh, you have a friend named Gord Downie (of the Tragically Hip), right?’” Boyden recalled in speaking with Metatawabin. “And I said ‘Ah, this the real reason you’re asking, isn’t it?’ (laughs) And he said, ‘Maybe he’ll want to play a couple of songs.’”
Downie, the Hip’s frontman, had previously been to the James Bay area with Boyden, taking part in fishing and hunting trips.
“I had a wonderful time,” Downie said of those trips. “I brought my son with me and I think he enjoyed the bush.”
Boyden wrote a letter to the other band members and they all agreed to put on a show in Fort Albany.
Prior to the concert, Downie and the band walked out onto James Bay to go ice fishing with some local residents.
That night in the Peetabeck Academy gymnasium, the concert was opened by local performers, with Downie jumping in on a song with local youth for a rendition of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.”
Then the Hip took the stage before the standing room only crowd, performing hits like “Bobcaygon” and “New Orleans Is Sinking.”
“The concert was awesome,” Metatawabin said. “Everyone was jumping up and down and screaming.”
During the set, Downie heard goose calls from the crowd, which he found “very comforting.”
The band was well received by the community.
“We’ve been treated like royalty,” Downie said.
The event received national coverage, with Downie, Boyden, Metatawabin, CBC’s Sheila Rogers, and local youth contributing pieces to MacLean’s magazine about the event.
Boyden, who previously taught in Moosonee, said he was glad to have the opportunity to go up to the community to dispel the negative press the region received.
“I’m a fighter for the people, and I’ll always do that,” he said. “I’ll try to correct the misunderstandings that many people have, and always show the beauty of the people as well.”
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