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Gord Downie is being remembered this week across Canada not only for his contributions in music, but also for his work towards Indigenous reconciliation and for cancer awareness. The national icon passed away this past Tuesday night from a rare form of brain cancer, glioblastoma. It’s important to remember the decades-long music career where he and The Tragically Hip toured this country and brought joy and music to every corner of it. It is also important to remember the social change Downie used his platform to enact, especially in the last couple years of his life.

In December 2016, Downie was honored by Canadian Indigenous leaders for his dedication to educating white Canadians about the horrors of residential schools and work toward reconciliation. He was presented with an eagle feather by National Chief Perry Bellegarde and given the Lakota spirit name, Wicapi Omani (which translates to ‘Man Who Walks Among The Stars’).

One of Downie’s final projects was a joint album and graphic novel which he collaborated on with Canadian artist Jeff Lemire. Secret Path details the story of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack who died in 1966 trying to escape a residential school during a northern Ontario winter. The graphic novel highlights the horrors of residential schools and all proceeds from the book go to The Gord Downie Secret Path Fund for Truth and Reconciliation.

Downie also started The Downie Wenjack Fund which challenges Canadians to ‘Do Something’ about our dark Indigenous history. The fund seeks to educate about reconciliation and awards grants for ‘reconciliACTION.’ The fund has vowed to continue Gord’s legacy ‘with love, gratitude and hope.’

It wasn’t just Indigenous issues that Downie raised awareness for in his last years, he also inadvertently drew attention to brain cancer. According to recent statistics, 25 Canadians are diagnosed with some form of brain cancer every day. Gord Downie’s public battle with the disease put a spotlight on it that had real effects on research and funding.

‘I think that [diagnosis] spurned on a huge movement that has resulted in massive fundraising efforts and probably more importantly, increased awareness in the community around [brain cancer],’ Downie’s neurosurgeon, Dr. D.J. Cook told Your Morning. He is confident that the funding from Downie’s public battle with the disease will yield more advancements in cures and treatments.

Downie’s specific type of brain cancer, glioblastoma, is particularly rare and aggressive. When he was first diagnosed, doctors knew it was incurable, but his battle helped with understanding the disease better and working out how best to treat it. Even through his greatest struggle, the Canadian icon was helping others. As Justin Trudeau said, ‘We are less as a country without Gord Downie’ but hopefully we can move forward in a way that would honor him.