Almost a year after running and walking more than 130 kilometres from Ottawa to the Algonquin community of Kitigan Zibi to raise awareness of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, Theland Kicknosway is getting ready to do it all over again — this time in the other direction.
Last year's journey from Ottawa to Kitigan Zibi, Que., the home community of Maisy Odjick and Shannon Alexander, missing since 2008, took Kicknosway six days over late March and early April.
As he stretched before a light run outside Sir Winston Churchill Public School on Monday, the 12-year-old reflected on last year's trek.
"Physically, my legs, I don't think they were really ready for it," Kicknosway said. "I knew that I had to pray and run hard for all of the missing and murdered [girls and women]."
This year, he says he's better prepared. "This year I think I'm ready. I'm ready to run."
'It's got to stop'
Kicknosway hopes to cover the same distance in just four days this year, leaving Kitigan Zibi Wednesday and arriving in Gatineau Saturday.
He came up with the idea for the run after asking his mother Elaine Kicknosway about the issue, and wondering what happens to the children of indigenous women who are murdered or disappear.
"I do this for them, because I asked my mom a couple years ago, 'What do we do?' And I think one way we can help is by raising awareness," he said. "It's got to stop."
Police have counted nearly 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada since 1980, but advocates estimate that number is much higher. Late last year the federal government announced an inquiry, which families of victims and supporters had long demanded.
Kicknosway's initiative is raising money for Families of Sisters in Spirit, a grassroots advocacy organization that supports families of victims and women who are missing.
'He's breaking the silence'
Kicknosway's mother Elaine is proud of her son's efforts. "He's helping show the places of where kind men and male youth can help and support missing and murdered indigenous women," she said. "(He's) breaking the silence."
The Grade 7 student is no stranger to the spotlight. Last fall, he appeared on television and computer screens across the country when he led Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's new cabinet into Rideau Hall with a song on his hand drum.
He appreciates the opportunities he's had, and sees them as ways to further raise awareness of indigenous issues.
"Now that I've been growing up and learning a lot about it, I think it's been a really good experience," he said. "I think I've had many people support me along the way on this journey through this life."