By Kelly Anne Smith
NORTH BAY – Indigenous extreme-marathoner Caribou Legs ran through North Bay last week for people to get the message to protect Canada’s lakes, rivers and watersheds.
Starting June 1st, Caribou Legs, aka Brad Firth, has run all the way from Vancouver and arrived in Ottawa on the weekend in time for today’s Peace Festival.
As a Gwichin, Caribou Legs runs to Parliament Hill in defense of the Peel Watershed in Northern Yukon. He says he has already been running about the problem for two years because it is under threat from mining.
“They want to take of the top side of the mountain and destroy the whole area. This will be devastating for our people, crushing the spirit of our ancestors. All our knowledge comes from that area.”
“It is the beginning of the end of our culture. All of our hunting and all of our caribou, the whole way of life is under threat.”
The Court of Appeal has just heard arguments on the fate of Yukon’s Peel Watershed. Firth hopes for victory in the upcoming decision.
Caribou Legs has grown a fan base in Canada.
Laura Liberty of Nipissing First Nation knew about his running pledge for water and wanted to meet him. She wanted her son to need him too. Liberty respects the sport minded and saw the greatness in the talent of Caribou Legs. She followed his Facebook posts and messaged to meet up with him outside of Mattawa, Ontario.
“He just ran 45kms through the night and he wasn’t even breathing hard. And he just went up that big hill.”
Liberty found it interesting what Caribou Legs had to travel. “There was a little flask of maple syrup, a little bit to eat and a light coat. I didn’t even see extra socks.”
He had asked Laura for a headlamp when she asked if he needed anything on the Facebook message. So she had purchased him one and gave him a small cash donation.
When Laura met up with him, he had slept in an abandoned trailer the night before. “He is very humble and wouldn’t wait for a local support effort because he was on his way.” She tried to give him more supplies for the road but he would only take four carrots and an apple because any more would have weighed him down.
The three new friends sat on rocks for the marathoner to have a rest. Caribou Legs gave wisdom to Laura’s 14-yr old son Shkabewis Tabobondung. “You got to have two things. You have to have the will to win and be committed six days a week. Everything else will take care of itself.”
Tabobondung was peppered with encouragement from Caribou Legs. “He said that if he hadn’t railroaded his athletic career with drug addiction, he could have been an Olympian. He had gratitude though, that he could run now.”
Laura asked about the last item in his bag for the road. “There was the remnant of a vest worn by Shirley Firth during the Olympics in the 1980’s. He pulled it out for safety because of the reflective tape on it. It had been so worn that it was basically a rag.” Firth and twin sister Sharon were competitive Nordic skiers. Shirley was on the Olympic team four consecutive times.
Asked how far he had come on ‘this run,’ Caribou Legs says, “About eight pairs of shoes. They last for about 500kms a pair.” By the time he runs into Ottawa, Firth will have run 4400kms.
On September 15th, Brad Firth was 35kms away from Pembroke mid-morning but was running at a pace to attend the high school’s track meet at 2pm. The young athletics are inspired by the physical endurance of Caribou Legs.
September 21 is the day of a special welcome to Ottawa for Caribou Legs.
There will be a water ceremony on Victoria Island followed by a run to Parliament Hill. MP Paul Dewar for Ottawa Centre joins him to run the rest of the way. Candidates of the upcoming election will be on hand for the presentation of a petition of the many signatures of Canadians worried about the future of our water.
“Hopefully, the end of the run will spark other people to go out and do things for water rights – you know – human rights.”
The next big feat for Caribou Legs will be his coast-to-coast marathon next summer. He will run to gain support for an inquiry into the more than 1,200 cases in Canada of murdered and missing aboriginal women.
Firth will also promote Warriors Against Violence. “I credit Joseph Fossella and Dan Parker for helping me. They are incredible at reforming and transforming troubled youth. I started going to ceremony and put down the weapons of mass destruction.”
As Caribou Legs plans his extreme marathon, he envisions partnering with the RCMP to initiate a national campaign against violence towards women.