Elaine & Theland Kicknosway
“I always knew I was Cree because I was young enough to remember the day I was taken but I didn’t really know how to be Cree.” Elaine
“I’m dancing for my family, for the ones who can’t,” he (Theland) explained. “As a young Indigenous youth in the 21st century — being able to represent my culture and do these types of dances that were outlawed — I am just very proud to know that I am keeping the tradition alive and that I’m making my family proud.”
Occupation: Indigenous Community Leaders, Sixties Scoop Survivor, Hoop Dancing, Walk for Missing and Murdered Indigneous Women
BIO TO COME
Theland has danced onstage with the electronic music group A Tribe Called Red. He’s travelled across Canada, and he’s performed in Mexico, the U.S. and Switzerland. His goal is to travel around the globe, sharing his love of dance.
“I’m dancing for my family, for the ones who can’t,” he explained. “As a young Indigenous youth in the 21st century — being able to represent my culture and do these types of dances that were outlawed — I am just very proud to know that I am keeping the tradition alive and that I’m making my family proud.”
The 15-year-old from Ottawa is the youngest ever to receive an Indspire Award.
Sometimes when Theland performs, his mother Elaine cries. She has done everything she can to make sure her son knows his culture.
“When he was seven he said ‘mommy I want everybody to see all the colours that I see when I’m dancing…like the rainbow,'” she recalled. “And I said ‘okay when I find you the rainbow I’ll go buy it.'”
Finding those lit-up hoops and fostering Theland’s pride in carrying forward traditional dance was important to Elaine. When she was three, her connection to her culture was severed. As a Sixties Scoop survivor, she was raised by a non-Indigenous family, and in foster homes. She lost her connection to her culture.
Elaine is especially proud that her son is the first hoop dancer in their family. She herself is a women’s traditional dancer. But she came to it late in life.
I wasn’t raised in our culture. I wasn’t raised to know even that I was Indigenous.
– Elaine Kicknosway
“I always knew I was Cree because I was young enough to remember the day I was taken but I didn’t really know how to be Cree.”
Elaine talks about loss — the loss of culture, the loss of land, the loss of language.
“We’re still kind of tourists with each other’s dance,” she said. “Even with family traditions, because we weren’t raised in our community, whereas Theland has been raised in his community.”
“To have him so confident and comfortable — it’s just a real blessing to witness and be a part of.”
Now, Theland can’t imagine not dancing.
“If I was not able to dance or sing or do anything that is connected to my culture, I don’t think I would be the same person that I am,” he said. “Because having that tie and connection to my culture is really what keeps me going as an Indigenous person.”
Theland’s mom is quick to remind him that he is the first in his family to be raised at home, not in foster homes or residential schools.
“Being that first and being able to tell these stories to my children, my grandchildren and the many generations to come — I’m just making that little drop of water in the ocean,” he said. “I could create a ripple effect.”
Ottawa teen Theland Kicknosway logs kilometres for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and transgender and two-spirit people.
PHOTO: JESSICA DEEKS
When he was nine years old, Theland Kicknosway asked his mother a profoundly difficult question: “What happens to the children of the missing and murdered Indigenous women?”
His mother, Elaine, didn’t have a ready answer, so she reached out to a friend, Bridget Tolley. Hailing from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg community, near Maniwaki, Que., Tolley is the founder of Families of Sisters in Spirit, a grassroots initiative that supports loved ones of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and transgender and two-spirit people. (The number of missing women is reported to number approximately 1,200 across Canada, though activists estimate the true total could in fact be much higher.)
Tolley explained to Theland that it wasn’t easy for the children left behind, many of whom were taken in by grandparents. “It’s tough to know that people you love are gone,” she said.
That idea bothered Theland so much that he became determined to help—to be, in his own words, “a child looking out for another child.” After some thought, he knew what to do. He would run.
Since 2015, his annual marathon, Theland’s Journey, has raised more than $5,000 for Families of Sisters in Spirit. The group, Tolley says, offers money and supplies to the children’s caretakers and also organizes events, such as a free supper in Ottawa in February 2018, where Indigenous women could pick up clothing, toys and household goods.
Theland’s run, she says, has become a key fundraiser for the organization, which has helped about 400 families so far.
The spring’s 134-kilometre trek, which kicked off on March 29, 2018, travels from Kitigan Zibi to Gatineau Park, just north of Ottawa. Community members, local politicians and police officers have been invited to join Theland, now 14, at various points along the run.
The teen’s chosen root has deep significance. Kitigan Zibi is home to the families of Maisy Odjick and Shannon Alexander, best friends who disappeared in September 2008 on their way to a high-school dance. Law enforcement officials have yet to clarify what happened to them.
Gatineau Park is the place where 27-year-old Kelly Morrisseau, a pregnant mother of three, was found in a pool of blood on the morning of December 10, 2006. She was taken to hospital with multiple stab wounds but died that same day. Her murder has never been solved.
Theland is a Grade 9 student at Merivale High School, in Ottawa’s west end. He trains for his run, which amounts to more than three full marathons in as many days, mostly by playing basketball, his favourite sport. But the challenge remains largely mental, not physical.
“It’s always a tough journey, but we’re doing this for something that has affected many lives,” he says. “I’ve learned that it may seem hard, it may seem tough, but we have to persevere. We have to have that strength to keep moving forward.”
Theland’s father, Vince Kicknosway, is filled with pride for his son. “This is something he came up with out of his own nature,” he says.
Both Vince and Elaine are survivors of the Sixties Scoop, the 1960s to late ’80s practice of taking First Nations children out of their homes and placing them in foster care or up for adoption.
Their son, on the other hand, is a member of the Walpole Island First Nation, in southwestern Ontario, and is an accomplished drummer, singer and hoop dancer. In November 2015, he led Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the new Liberal cabinet into Rideau Hall for their swearing-in ceremony.
Theland was recently named a 2018 Indspire Award recipient for his contribution to Indigenous culture, heritage and spirituality. He is considering a career as a performer or actor—and he has no plans to stop running.
“I want to do something to help bring change,” he says.