Teenager Theland Kicknosway’s annual run for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is being turned into a virtual event this year, and he’s calling on people from across North America to join him.
“Throughout the day we’re going to be sharing teachings and we’re going to give thanks to MMIWG and two spirits,” said Kicknosway, who is from Walpole Island First Nation in southwestern Ontario.
Kicknosway, who is Potawatami/Cree, lives in Ottawa and has been running to raise awareness about MMIWG since he was nine.
“In 2012, I asked my mom ‘What happens to the missing and murdered Indigenous [women’s] children?'” said Kicknosway.
“I told her that I wanted to run to honour the MMIWG2S and for four years we had that run. It’s a 134 kilometre run from Gatineau, Que., to Kitigan Zibi.”
For the last two years he has held an annual run at Algonquin College, but thanks to COVID-19, he has turned this year’s run into a virtual event.
“Because of the pandemic, we are trying to adapt to new ways, to stay connected but also social distancing,” said Kicknosway.
His mother, Elaine Kicknosway, has worked at organizations with Indigenous women who are at risk of domestic violence, while his dad Vinny Kicknosway is the cultural co-ordinator for the Odawa Native Friendship Centre and one of the region’s advocates for the “I am a kind man” program, an Indigenous-led initiative devoted to ending violence against Indigenous women.
She said Theland grew up in that milieu.
“When he was nine, he was asking, ‘What can I do? How do we prevent it? How do we have these conversations?'” his mother said.
Kicknosway, who will be 17 in a couple of weeks, plans on running one kilometre every hour during the virtual event. It will include opening prayers, cultural teachings, a hoop dance, and a message from one of his aunts, community advocate and grandmother Bridget Tolley.
Tolley is one of the co-founders of Families of Sisters in Spirit, a grassroots organization that supports the families of MMIWG.
Usually, Kicknosway raises funds for the Families of Sisters in Spirit organization, but this year wants to leave that decision up to the people participating.
“We’re not forcing anyone to do anything; we want to make sure that this is as open and welcoming as possible.”
Encouraging positive masculinity
One of the people expected to join the virtual run will be Canadian Army Cpl. Jonathan Meikle.
The 30-year-old from Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba recently ran 32 kilometres through Winnipeg’s inner city on May 5, the U.S. National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
“[There’s] a strong connection between MMIWG and men’s healing because we need to reconnect with our roles within the community to who we initially were before colonization,” said Meikle.
Meikle and his friends started an initiative called Strength in the Circle. Together, they have been working as a group to promote health and wellbeing among Indigenous males.
“With that healthy masculinity, we are trying to bring back those roles as warriors and the definition of warrior being looking after the community,” said Meikle.
The seven hour virtual event begins Saturday 11 a.m. ET and will be livestreamed on Facebook.