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Gord Downie inspires Alberta First Nation elementary school musical

Students at a southern Alberta First Nation elementary school put on their own, original production telling the story behind Gord Downie's Lakota spirit name.

The Journey of Wicapi Omani was based on story of late Tragically Hip singer

Alberta First Nation school honours Gord Downie 0:57

Watch out Come From Away — there's another seriously Canadian musical on the horizon.

Students at a southern Alberta First Nation elementary school put on their own, original production Thursday for parents, telling the story behind Gord Downie's Lakota spirit name.

The play, called The Journey of Wicapi Omani — The Man Who Walks Among The Stars, was inspired by the late Tragically Hip singer's contributions as an advocate for First Nations people.

Drew Van Allen conducts Grade 4 and 5 students as they perform a musical inspired by Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

"The play is about a boy named Wicapi Omani and how he travels through his journey of life trying to accomplish a destiny the creator had given him, which was to spread acceptance peace and unity throughout the world," said Drew Van Allen, the music teacher at Nakoda Elementary School.

Downie was honoured with the name Wicapi Omani by the Assembly of First Nations in December 2016. 

Van Allen wrote the musical with help from cultural advisors and incorporated Tragically Hip songs and some of the Stoney language for the Grade 4 and 5 students.

Nakoda Elementary School music teacher Drew Van Allen said he loved the chance to use music to share a positive message. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

He said his students had learned about Downie's animated film and concept album The Secret Path in class, and made claymation figures to accompany the songs.

The film tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, a boy who died trying to make his way home from a residential school in the 1960s. 

"It couldn't have happened if the kids weren't sold on it. They appreciated what he stood for and what he tried to do for First Nations people," he said. "I think they really appreciated the attention he drew to kids like them."

Student Ocean Dixon said she liked the opportunity to share the messages in The Tragically Hip's music. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

Student Ocean Dixon, who introduced the story of the musical, said she liked the messages in The Tragically Hip's songs.

"He put a lot of his energy into his songs and he just wanted everyone to be nice," she said. "It's good to remember him."

The musical has received some recognition from Downie's brother, Patrick, who wrote Van Allen an email thanking him. 

"It's really special to know this story has made it all the way to the Downie family. We couldn't ask for anything more. We're touched," he said.


With files from Justin Pennell