For the third year in a row, an Ottawa boy is embarking on a 130-kilometre run to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women and their children left behind.
Theland Kicknosway, 13, leaves on foot from Gatineau Park Wednesday morning and will run north to the Algonquin community of Kitigan Zibi. The journey is expected to take him at least three days.
It's his third annual run along the same route to keep the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the spotlight, and to raise money for families affected by by these tragedies.
"It's been a really breathtaking experience for myself growing up," said Kicknosway. "You see different stuff every year, and it's really hard to explain, but it's different things that come to your mind while you're in the wilderness."
Honours local victims
Kicknosway will start his run at the site in Gatineau Park where Kelly Morrisseau was found killed in 2006. He'll end at the home of activist Bridget Tolley in Kitigan Zibi, who spearheads the grassroots initiative Families of Sisters in Spirit.
His destination is also the home community of Maisy Odjick and Shannon Alexander, teen girls who have been missing since 2008.
Since last year's run, the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women officially got underway, and Kicknosway is hopeful that it will help families find answers and heal.
"With this inquiry I believe that we will find a solution, and there's a lot of stuff to be taken [on], but through this run I'm planning on keeping a good mind and going forward with everybody's who's doing it with us," he said.
A couple of marathon runners from Montreal will join him for the entire run, and others including RCMP officers will join in for part of it.
Equivalent of running more than 3 marathons
While he's been training daily for the jaunt — which is the equivalent of running more than three marathons — Kicknosway says the physical toll is easier to cope with than the mental one.
"It's not about getting faster or better. It's about having enough mental strength to keep on going," he said, adding that each day starts with a smudge ceremony to honour the victims and their families.
Kicknosway originally planned to end his awareness run after his fourth year, but he's considering keeping it going beyond next year.
"With this inquiry, who knows how long it's going to be? We originally wanted to have a four year run, but if we have to keep on going, we will. And we'll keep working as we usually do," he said.