'Caribou Legs': Man running to honour missing, murdered indigenous women
Brad Firth is taking every step he can to draw attention to Canada’s missing and murdered indigenous women.
The 46-year-old member of the Gwich’in First Nation, who also goes by the name Caribou Legs, is about midway through a run across Canada to raise awareness of the issue. He is travelling along many of the same roads where the women he is honouring were last seen alive.
“I’m honouring all those missing and murdered women that went to the Pickton farm,” he told CTV Regina, referring to the victims of serial killer Robert Pickton that were discovered on his British Columbia pig farm in 2007.
Firth, like many of Pickton’s victims, lived on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside where he spent 20 years struggling with drug abuse. Now eight years sober and relocated to Inuvik, N.W.T., he’s embraced a health-conscious lifestyle to support his long-distance running.
He set off from Vancouver on May 8 and hopes to reach St. John’s by November.
During his 6,000-kilometre journey along the Trans-Canada Highway, Firth will face every element the Canadian outdoors has to offer. However, he says he’s ready.
“I’m from the Arctic. I’ve done a lot of ice road running,” he said. “The weather doesn’t really have a strong effect as long as I’m dressed properly.”
Unlike similar long distance runs, such as Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope or Rick Hansen’s Man in Motion World Tour, Firth doesn’t travel with a support team or announce his route ahead of time. He runs for eight hours a day, stopping to visit with friends and family and to update his Facebook page.
He recently posted an interview with a group of teens clad in reflective vests volunteering with the White Pony Lodge Street Patrol, a group that works to combat violence and crime in Regina’s North Central neighbourhood. Firth filmed the group as they shared experiences from a recent evening patrol, high-fiving each of them from behind his cell phone.
Firth’s own experiences played a big role in his decision to embark on the run. Last year his sister was killed in an instance of domestic violence.
“I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know what I was going to do, if I was going to go back home or If I was going to continue on,” he said. “It was suggested to me that I continue on running in honour of her.”
Firth says he hopes to inspire action by sharing his story with those he meets along the way.
N’tanis Kay flagged down Firth by the side of the road near Regina to give him a bottle of water and a sandwhich.
“It means a lot. We have families that are going through so much heartache and pain,” she said. “For him to do this, it’s amazing.
Data from Statistics Canada shows there were 163 occurrences of violent victimization per 1,000 Aboriginal people in 2014, more than double the rate among non-aboriginals.
Aboriginal people were also 55 percent more likely to experience spousal abuse than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. Sixteen per cent of all women murdered in Canada between 1980 and 2012 were indigenous, according to government statistics. Indigenous women make up 4 per cent of Canada's female population.
Ottawa has announced an official inquiry, but the preliminary negotiations between the federal government and the provinces have faced repeated delays. Two provinces have yet to approve the terms that will determine the probe’s focus and scope. First nations chiefs expressed growing frustration at their annual general assembly last week.