By Sam Laskaris
Theland Kicknosway is once again ready to kick off his lengthy run/walk which raises awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women.
This marks the fourth consecutive year that Kicknosway, who is just 14, has embarked on his event, which covers a total of 132 kilometres over four days.
Though he’s altered which route he takes in previous years, Kicknosway will start his run this year on tomorrow, Wednesday March 28 beginning on the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation in Quebec. His event will continue for four days and conclude in the nation’s capital of Ottawa, his hometown.
Since the event’s inception, Kicknosway, a member of Walpole Island First Nation in southwestern Ontario, has partnered with the Families of Sisters in Spirit (FSIS).
The organization is headed by Bridget Tolley. She founded the group after her mother Gladys was struck and killed by a police cruiser in Kitigan Zibi in 2001.
“I’ve been looking for justice ever since,” Tolley said, adding there was never any admission of guilt in her mother’s death and that the case was closed a few months after she died.
“Her case was closed in 2001, three months after it happened,” she said. “But they didn’t tell us until 13 months later. We’ve been fighting since then to get the case reopened.”
Kicknosway wasn’t even alive when Gladys Tolley was killed. But his mother Elaine started bringing him to vigils when he was a toddler. Bridget Tolley continues to stage these vigils in honour of her mother.
“I’ve known him most of my life,” Tolley said of Kicknosway. “When he came up to me and said ‘I want to run to your place’ it was shocking. It’s still very emotional for me.”
During his inaugural run in 2015, when he was just 11, Kicknosway ran from Ottawa to Kitigan Zibi.
Kicknosway said a family member inspired him to start a run for a worthwhile cause.
“I got the idea from my auntie Ida Fiddler who biked across Canada raising awareness of the Oxycontin abuse on her home reserve,” he said.
Fiddler is from Ontario’s Sandy Lake First Nation.
Kicknosway said he decided to organize an event to raise awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women because it is an ongoing concern.
Kicknosway, a Grade 9 student at Ottawa’s Merivale High School, believes he is making a difference through his annual event.
“I believe the difference is that raising awareness and funds for the organization is important because it creates a new space to discuss and help our (missing and murdered) families come together and talk about our living, and speaking of our loved ones in a good way,” he said.
Kicknosway also believes he is helping others take up a cause of their own.
“I believe I’ve been able to reach out to youth younger and older than me and inspire them,” he said.
He trained for his event by running on a treadmill, working out at the gym and playing basketball.
Kicknosway added bringing youth together is rather important.
“(I want) to continue the conversation that youth need to stay together because we are the youth that are going to grow up together and make changes,” he said.
Tolley also finds it Kicknosway’s efforts rather inspirational.
“It’s such an inspiration for the youth,” she said. “There’s a lot of them who don’t even know that this is happening.”
As for the future, Kicknosway plans to continue raising awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous females. He plans to do that by running across Canada some year.
Should that run materialize he hopes it will be staged in partnership with FSIS.
Kicknosway was honoured for his activism this past week as one of the 2018 recipients of the Indspire Awards, formerly known as the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards.
Kicknosway was a winner in the Culture, Heritage and Spirituality category.
Tolley believes the teen will go on to achieve even greater things.
“He’s done so much, not only for the missing, but for the community as well,” she said.
As she has done in previous years of the event, Tolley plans to walk between 5-10 kilometres on the first day. But as was the case in the past, she will have a presence for the duration of the event.
“They need people to carry food and water and to have vehicles,” she said. “I’ll be helping out for sure all of the days.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up for Kicknosway’s event. Donations can be made through this link