Brad Firth

Brad Firth

‘Caribou Legs’ nears end of cross-Canada run

Brad Firth raising awareness for missing and murdered aboriginal women

Dressed in traditional war paint and holding a hand drum, a G’wich’in First Nation ultra runner who ran across the country last year is set to run the length of Vancouver Island, in an effort to raise awareness for missing and murdered aboriginal women.

Brad Firth, 46, known as Caribou Legs, completed a six-month journey from Vancouver to St. John’s, Nfld. in late November. His 7,400 km, mostly unsupported run gave Firth an opportunity to raise awareness and continue conversations on not only MMAW, but also on domestic violence.

He returned to the Island “to make sure it was a cross-Canada tour; I wanted to completely cover Canada,” he explained in an interview from a coffee shop in Parksville.

Firth, who is from the Beaufort Delta area in Inuvik, NWT, made his way from Tofino to Port Alberni last weekend, and continued to Nanaimo this week. He is set to give a talk in Vancouver before retuning to Victoria early next week to begin the 14-day journey to Port Hardy.

Firth explained the sight of him running alongside major roads throughout the country has created mixed reactions.

“To have an aboriginal runner in war paint, being seen as a warrior in regalia in any small community really gets people talking. Some people are really open to it, and start hugging me. Some people frown and get really uncomfortable around the subject of reconciliation and talking about old systematic racism towards aboriginal women and women in general.”

Firth makes a point of initiating conversations wherever his runs take him, and noted not all of his experiences have been positive – he conceded there is still a long way to go with racism in Canada.

“There have been times when people have removed themselves when I sit down. I’ve had some people spit at me; there are a lot of wrong impressions.”

He said last summer he was handcuffed in Alberta – an incident north of Calgary when RCMP stopped him after they received reports of a man with make-up on his face on the highway waving a gun.

The gun, it turned out, was Firth’s hand drum.

While he comes from a family of strong athletes – his sisters Sharon and Shirley Firth were among the first aboriginal athletes to represent Canada at the Olympics and were members of the first Canadian women’s cross-country ski team at the Games – running came from a place of necessity, and not at first, of desire.

As a teenager, Firth found himself unemployed in Vancouver. A few years later, he was living in the Downtown Eastside using crack cocaine. He credited police officers who would chase him around the streets of the city with the need to run quickly.

Eventually, he was caught, and one officer encouraged him to use his natural running ability for good.

He eventually joined the Vancouver Falcons Athletic Club through a rehab program and began running seriously.

He ran his first marathon – the BMO Vancouver Marathon – in 2005, and placed 743rd out of 3,000 runners. Five years later, he moved up the rankings, and qualified to run the Boston Marathon with a time of 3:07.

“I dedicate my life to running and I sit at a humble spot. I am so grateful to use my athleticism; running has saved my life.”

Firth is now looking at visiting schools, groups and rehabilitation centres when he undertakes his run up the Island.

For more information and to follow him on social media, search for Caribou Legs on Facebook or #WarriorsAgainstViolence.