Brad Firth, also known as Caribou Legs, has just finished his cross-Canada run. The First Nations runner from Inuvik, N.W.T. had been running across the country since May in honour of the nation’s missing and murdered women. That’s an issue in our country regarding the hundreds of unsolved cases of women who have either been murdered of gone missing since the 1970’s. Many of the victims of violence are from the First Nations community. The distance runner has four years of ultra-running behind him having logged 15,000 kilometres since recovering from a drug and alcohol addiction. For this particular run, he set out in Vancouver on Mother’s Day and just finished up his 7,400-kilomete endeavor when he reached St. John’s on Sunday, Nov. 20. 2016.
We talked to him about his run, why he did it and how he keeps himself healthy for the long distances.
This interview originally ran earlier this fall. All photos used with permission of Caribou Legs.
Canadian Running: Why is this cause so important to you?
Caribou Legs: I took a family loss last summer. My sister died as a result of domestic violence. Her husband beat her up, it caused a stroke and then she died of a sudden heart attack. I was devastated. I was shocked, hurt and angry. And I didn’t know what to do.
CR: Tell us a little bit about her.
CL: Her name was Irene and she was a very caring, kind, generous, gregarious woman. She had really strong relationships that she built her entire life and she was a very good athlete herself. She was a beautiful support and a very non-judgmental woman so when that happened to her, I wanted to honour her. I got as much information as I could and I surrounded myself by all kinds of beautiful, strong, empowered women who were fighting for dignity and respect. That’s how it started.
“Children need to know the truth and be armed with tools so we have emotionally mature families so this can stop.”
CR: You have a bit of a background doing ultra runs too. What’s the story there?
CL: I joined a running group called Run for Change with Benji Chu. I told him that I wanted to run long distances. He devised three runs. We started training just running on the highway and that’s when I sobered up. I got off the streets from Vancouver’s downtown east side. We did our first run to Whistler in 12 hours. On my third run, I got hit by a truck. My left elbow got shattered, my hand was crushed, my foot was fractured. It was a turning point. It was the breakthrough moment. Benji told me that I needed to get off the oxycontin and Percocet’s. So I got off the pills, I started moving around. I had to keep that goal of running across Canada at the front of my mind. Six months later, I got back in the highway.
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CR: What do you want Canadians to take from your current run?
CL: The majority of Canadians are very apathetic about this issue. They don’t seem to care about women going missing. It’s an issue that needs to be taught in schools. It’s a topic that needs to be talked about at family meals or gatherings. Children need to know the truth and be armed with tools so we have emotionally mature families so this can stop.
“We had a lot of proud athletes in our community but at the same time, we had so much dysfunction with violence and with alcohol. Skiing and hockey and running were outlets for a lot of youth.”
CR: Tell us about the community you come from.
CL: I was born and raised in Inuvik. I come from a family of athletes. My aunts were four-time Olympians so I was raised as a cross-country skier. I started racing when I was six years old. We’re a family of very proud athletes. My grandparents were hunters and gatherers. They’re also survivors of residential schools. Back in the 1970s, our town had many world class cross-country skiers. We had a lot of proud athletes in our community but at the same time, we had so much dysfunction with violence and with alcohol. Skiing and hockey and running were outlets for a lot of youth. At the same time, those kids were stunted emotionally, spiritually and mentally by drug or alcohol abuse or systemic violence around residential school trauma.
CR: How has this community been affected by the missing and murdered issue?
CL: There are dozens of women who were abused sexually, physically and emotionally in Inuvik. My cousin was killed at a young age by a man who raped her. The violence in the arctic runs deep.
CR: You run up to 80K each day. How do you approach these big runs?
CL: I have the aboriginal community women’s groups supporting me so letting them down is not an option. I watch my diet and I watch my stress level and I enjoy running— it’s my medicine. I wake up and I have a little ceremony. I light my sage, my sweet grass, my tobacco, and I take about 15 minutes to sit and have a moment of clarity.
I cleanse my organs with some water and I have a bit of food: berries, chia seeds, nut butter and some cinnamon. I have small handfuls of that about 10 times a day. By 3:00 p.m. or 4:00 p.m., I find a motel. I like to end the day with a nice soak in the tub to relax my muscles.
“When they see someone like myself running across Canada raising awareness, it liberates their anger and a lot of their frustrations and pain.”
CR: How have people reacted to your cross-country run?
CL: Sometimes a person will come up to me crying. There are also tears of joy because for the first time in their life of honouring their sister or mother, somebody is doing something about it. So many people have good intentions but have broken promises. When they see someone like myself running across Canada raising awareness, it liberates their anger and a lot of their frustrations and pain.
CR: Running across Canada is an experience very few people get. What are your favourite parts about running this landscape?
CL: The British Columbia mountains are very beautiful, very surreal, very majestic. It gives you an uplifting feeling to be so close to wildlife. Being in touch with the land and being right there and just honouring the fresh water in B.C., I can’t get enough of it. I’m always thinking about the mountains— no matter where I am. Especially when running through the hot, flat Prairies. It strengthens me when I’m running past fresh water that I can harvest. It gives me spiritual growth. I’m imagining myself flowing freely with the water when I’m running