Robyn Michaud-Turgeon has two foster sons and is a leading light in the Indigenous running community, working as a school teacher and active on social media with an open and sensitive voice. She says the discovery of 215 graves of children at the Kamloops Residential School came as no surprise to members of her Indigenous community and that there’s certainly more gruesome discoveries to be made. Processing her emotions, Michaud-Turgeon went on a run.
“I felt so much sadness, but also anger and unsettledness and needed to channel my energy into something,” she says. “That’s when I thought: if we can put this into some good that’s going to move this country forward, that would be awesome.”
Make no mistake, Michaud-Turgeon has to work to seek out positive solutions to unthinkable, criminal acts against children. Often during our conversation, she pauses to collect her thoughts and force herself not to lean into despair, which of course she feels. She says, “The survivors always told us there’s kids buried at these sites. There’s awareness now, but they’ve been saying this for years,” she says, “but we have the country’s attention and honouring those we lost and highlighting the good happening in our community would be helpful in moving us forward. Healing, for me, is what running is all about.”
Running, as an act of mental health, is well documented, as is exercise and even the very act of getting outside and taking a breath of air. But there’s also something else running is good for, and that’s raising money. The Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend recently announced via their Scotiabank Charity Challenge that runners and walkers raised nearly $900,000 for charities during their virtual events held this year. Since 2007, the Scotiabank Charity Challenge in Vancouver has raised $10 million for over 200 local charities. That’s a lot of money, and through the Scotiabank Charity Challenge, participating charities keep 100% of the funds raised. It levels the playing field for small charities to raise donations alongside the massive charities that have entire donation wings.
In October, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon is also taking part in the Scotiabank Charity Challenge and the Anishnawbe Health Foundation, providing medical care to Toronto’s Indigenous community, is part of the program. Last year, the Anishnawbe Health Foundation had the goal of raising $5,000. Instead, they raised $12,000. What can we do this year? Today is Global Running Day, which is nice for all of us runners. But what if instead of just getting out and running, we pledged to work together as a block and get involved in our communities?
Joel Kennedy, the Urban Aboriginal Healthy Living Coordinator at N’Amerind (London) Friendship Centre, started the Indigenous run club in 2016. He recently ran 21.5K this week to help process his grief while raising awareness. He wore his orange shirt. He ran to City Hall. June 21 in Canada is National Indigenous People’s Day. On this day, Indigenous people, Kennedy says, will celebrate in different ways.
He’s helping organize a “Solidarity Run,” sponsored in part by Brooks Canada for Indigenous people living in Ontario. It can be replicated all over the country and what other shoe brands will step in? Kennedy knows how powerful running is. It helped him on his own health journey to lose more than 150-pounds and he’s been bringing his community together to participate in both training runs and events since 2016. He wants the running community to be part of this moment of Canadian reckoning.
“I don’t want to speak in anger, but it’s important for people to know that putting a teddy bear on your porch isn’t enough. You need to learn about Canada’s history,” he says, “I’m not discouraging runners to donate money—and one place I’d say worth donating to is the Woodland Cultural Centre—but it’s important for runners to educate themselves on difficult truths.”
For Robyn Michaud-Turgeon, this month has brought about grief that felt unbearable at times. “I see up close and personal the intergenerational impact of what’s happened to our children. It’s shocking, but not surprising,” she says, and she too is involved with Kennedy on the June 21 Solidarity Run. “I was on my run last night and thought how happy those kids would be to know we’re still here and still thriving and there’s clubs like ours that do good in the community. The fact that we’re free enough to put on our shoes and go for a run is a testament to our people—to our resilience.”
For more information on the Solidarity Run, follow Joel Kennedy on Instagram @Indigenous_Runner. To register for the Scotiabank Charity Challenge in Toronto, see torontowaterfrontmarathon.com. For more information on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, see TRC.ca.