How much was the Tragically Hip singer praising Prime Minister Trudeau or challenging him to make life better for indigenous people?
Gord Downie could have stood for a lot of things on Saturday night, during the final performance of the Tragically Hip’s Man Machine Poem tour, and possibly of his life. But with the nation watching — 11.7-million tuning in on CBC — he called for non-Indigenous Canadians to take up the long, difficult process of decolonization.
His comments came framed as a compliment to Justin Trudeau, who was in the crowd (wearing a Canadian Tuxedo): “He cares about the people way up North, that we were trained our entire lives to ignore, trained our entire lives to hear not a word of what’s going on up there. And what’s going on up there ain’t good. It’s maybe worse than it’s ever been [ … But] we’re going to get it fixed and we got the guy to do it, to start, to help. […] It’s really, really bad, but we’re going to figure it out — you’re going to figure it out.”
Debate has followed about how much this was an endorsement of Trudeau, a professed longtime fan of the band, and how much it was — with Downie’s trademark sly irony — a challenge.
It came at the end of two weeks of racial discord in Saskatchewan, following the shooting of Colten Boushie, a Cree man from the Red Pheasant First Nation, by Gerald Stanley, a white farmer now charged with second-degree murder.
Saskatchewan social media filled with so much invective against native people by whites — many almost certainly Hip fans — that Premier Brad Wall had to plead for an end to “racist and hate-filled comments.” The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, meanwhile, pushed the RCMP to investigate the shooting as a hate-crime.
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