(This is Part 3 in a series of reflections on the Diocese of Saskatoon Catholic Foundation participation in a “Run for Reconciliation” as part of The Great Canadian Death Race, raising awareness and support for the Indigenous Reconciliation Fund).
By Mark Nickolayou
Here is the description of the third leg of The Great Canadian Death Race on their website https://www.sinistersports.ca/deathrace/course.php: “Leg 3: Old Mine Road (AKA “City Slicker Valley”) Distance: 20.5km Elevation: +345m / -632m
“Description: A bit of pavement to start and the rest is a dirt road with several creek crossings. One creek runs right down the trail as you descend the first part of the Mine Road; making for very slippery, rocky, terrain for 30 meters. This section passes through the lowest point in the race, hitting the very bottom of the Smoky River valley floor, with knee deep water for 25 meters. (If it’s a wet summer, it’s worse.) With a net elevation loss of over 600m, this section is the fastest and easiest of the race and one of the most beautiful, offering stunning views of the Smoky River valley.”
On the diocese of Saskatoon “Run for Reconciliation” team, this leg was completed by Daniel Albert from Sweetgrass First Nation on Treaty 6 territory.
The “why?” for him is simple. “Running helps clarity, clear the mind, all of that. Helps me get rooted with nature, the environment and helps with cardiovascular health,” said Daniel.
He has been involved in fitness from a young age beginning with soccer. He now runs about five times a week. As he got older his interests broadened to include strength training, cross-fit, weightlifting, powerlifting, nutrition, and his most important piece: mental health.
Athletes can draw strength from many things in order to participate and even compete at these levels, and Albert said that he wants to see what his body is capable of, on an ongoing basis, however, at best the runner will only finish if they don’t carry themselves with the right “headspace.”
Daniel speaks about going into a sport with a clean mind, especially for his culture, without anger, jealousy, or other internalized samples of your personal life. Embedding that mental component along with nutrition puts the participant into a better place in their own life and also with a race like this one, Albert exclaims.
He hopes to participate in the Sinister 7 next year in the Crowsnest Pass, simply to challenge himself as an athlete and challenge himself to be a better person.
His experience meeting so many different people thanks to fitness is obviously a point of pride. A warm and enthusiastic smile frames his face as speaks about his teammates, the strangers, and myself, whom he has met through the “fitness family,” a family that bridges the gap between different cultures and backgrounds.
Daniel Albert’s people are from the Nehiyaw or Plains Cree, who speak Cree, a dialect of the Algonquin language, the most prolific indigenous language in Canada.
Daniel is proud of his heritage, and realizes the importance of remembering where he has come from and keeping traditions, especially language alive. “If the French in Quebec suddenly lost their language, they would be able to travel to France to relearn their language, if we lose our language here, we have nowhere else to go to, no other homelands to go to rejuvenate the Cree language.”
As someone of Eastern European descent, I understand what he meant immediately since my people could do the same to help relearn what is gone culturally. It’s not lost on me the somber and serious tone he used and the words he chose when speaking.
We are missing the point in North America when we are trying to understand reconciliation and impose our ideas about it on someone else. Each culture that exists has some reconciling to do on its own and none of us has a right to tell the other how they should go about it.
I know Daniel will be proud to carry on his family’s tradition of eldership within his tribe, recalling history, dealing with intergenerational trauma, and inspiring the next generation to continue the task of teaching and doing right by them — fitness leading the way.
The notion that a team could be assembled with representation of different cultures, religious beliefs and goals is challenging. But that is what has happened here. There was a common desire to accomplish greatness together, regardless of background.
This is exemplified by Daniel’s answer about what reconciliation is, an answer about inclusivity, refusing to see someone different because of a “grouping.”
Sometimes education may seem forced, why is it required to learn about this or that, is debate necessary, and will it change things in the long run? Does it apply to me, am I ever going to use this, i.e., geo-trig or physics? The list goes on, and so does history.
Perhaps it makes us uncomfortable to start a conversation about reconciliation because it might cost us something or we are unsure about what the expectations might be — but how would it make someone else feel if the tables are turned?
Seems to me that people who are teaching us about diversity, inclusion, and forgiveness who we tried to teach the ‘right’ ideas , in fact have taught us something in return. They choose to be your friend because you are worthy and you are worthy just because you breathe.