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Olympian Joe Keeper celebrated at Smithsonian

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Joseph Keeper, one of the greatest distance runners in Canadian history, will have his story profiled at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. this summer.

Keeper (1886-1971) was born at Walker Lake, Manitoba and ran for Canada at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. He is a member of the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame and in 1984 was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. Keeper is part of an exhibition Best in the World: Native Athletes in the Olympics featuring those who have provided some of the most dramatic moments in Olympic history that runs until September 3 at the National Museum of the Native American.

Special attention is being paid to the 1912 Olympics, celebrating its 100th anniversary this summer.

A member of the Norway House Cree First Nation, Keeper moved to Brandon for schooling at the Brandon Indian Residential School. It was there Keeper showed an aptitude for distance running before he moved to Winnipeg in 1910 and joined the North End Amateur Athletic Club. A year later he set the Canadian record for the 10-mile run.

Keeper was selected to the 1912 Olympic team and raced in the 5,000 and 10,000-metre races in Stockholm. His fourth-place finish in the 10,000 remains the best result ever for a Canadian in that event.

Keeper joined the army in 1916 and served two years in France, receiving a Military Medal for his action during World War I. In 1917 Keeper, along with Tom Longboat, won an inter-Allied cross-country championship held near Vimy Ridge. Longboat and Keeper and other First Nation distance runners served as dispatch carriers for the 107th Pioneer Battalion.

Keeper returned to Winnipeg after the war, then moved back to the northern part of the province where he worked for the Hudson's Bay Company until he retired in 1951. He and his wife Christina McLeod had four sons and three daughters and his granddaughter is actress and politician Tina Keeper.

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