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This article was published 5/12/2016 (1051 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A young woman angry about the rising number of missing and murdered Indigenous women is the feature subject of an American musician’s new music video.
This past summer, Riverbend track and field athlete Tracie Leost got an exciting invitation by Los Angeles-based artist Rachael Cassells. Cassells was directing the music videos for Run Sister Run by California’s Cass McCombs and remembered Leost’s story.
In August 2015, motivated to raise awareness to missing and murdered Indigenous women, Leost embarked on a solo 115-kilometre run. During her Grade 11 year at Garden City Collegiate, Leost became more interested in the topic after taking an Indigenous Studies course.
"I started paying more attention to it. Then I noticed every second day on the news there was a new story. And that bothered me. They are young girls, 14-year-olds, 15-year-olds, going missing, being murdered, they have a whole life ahead of them. And that bothered me," the 18-year-old runner said.
Leost, who started running cross-country in elementary school, said she was mad at the fact that people were blaming women for dying. She didn’t think former Prime Minister Stephen Harper was invested in the idea of an inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
"(Harper) said ‘It isn’t high on our radar, to be honest’, and that’s like a slap in your face," she said referring to a comments the former PM made in 2014 during an interview with the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge. "There are thousands and thousands of women who are affected by this. I felt like there wasn’t enough attention being drawn to what was a national crisis."
After talking to her Indigenous Studies teacher, who encouraged her to use her potential to affect change, Leost decided to run from Oak Point, Man., where her grandparents live and where she spent most of her childhood, to the MMIWG monument at The Forks. The athlete said if she ever goes missing and becomes part of that statistics, she would be remembered at the places she ran and the places that matter to her.
Leost’s run was so successful that within days she made national news. That was when Cassells, who’d recently completed an oral history and portrait project featuring mothers of missing and murdered women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, heard about the brave young women. She explained she became aware of the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada when she met Canadian Indigenous elders at the Healing Our Spirit Worldwide event, who told her there was much work to be done for awareness around MMIWG.
Run Sister Run is a song about women’s rights, and Cassells said she and McCombs both agreed Leost’s story was the most inspiring, so they decided to amplify her message, using several long shots of Leost running down Highway 6. The singer only appears in the video briefly during an overlay.
"I wanted people to feel empowered by her story, to see how one heart and mind can feel moved to act and how much that one decision can ripple out into the world. I wanted the conversation about MMIW to keep going and for it to reach an audience around the world. Violence, injustice and racism in the application of justice and policing is not just a Canadian issue," she said.
Back in 2015, Leost finished completed the 115-kilometre run in four days, and although she was by herself, she didn’t feel lonely.
"I felt like I had the souls of these women connected with mine and whenever I started feeling down there was something that reminded me, or there was something that triggered the thoughts to remind me why I am doing what I’m doing. I loved every single part of it," Leost continued. "I wanted my voice to be heard. I wanted Stephen Harper to be embarrassed that he didn’t think this was important and that I was putting myself through absolute hell so that I could give these women a voice, and to me that was important."
Leost is currently studying social work at the University of Regina and has been active in advocating for MMIWG across the country.
Community journalist — The Times
Ligia Braidotti is the community journalist for The Times. Email her at email@example.com