Brad Firth wants all Gwich’in people to write to Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski and tell him why it’s important to protect the Peel watershed.
In April, the ultra runner plans to run all the way from Inuvik to Whitehorse in order to deliver the letters in person.
Just call him Caribou Legs.
“Hopefully he can read them and get a firsthand sense of our attachment to the land,” said Firth. “All the stories, all the history of people living on the land up in the watershed. And what it’s done for them, how hurt they are right now, how afraid they are, how tense and anxious they are right now.”
Firth is Gwich’in, born and raised in Inuvik.
But he spent most of his life in Vancouver, and much of that time as an addict on the street.
He started running as a way to get away from his addictions six or seven years ago, he said.
“This old elder in Vancouver told me to go back to what I used to do when I was a kid. And I couldn’t answer that, I couldn’t think of that. And he asked me, ‘What did you use to do as a kid?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know.’ And he said, ‘You ran. You ran as a kid. We all run as kids.’ And I thought about it and it’s true.”
Firth hasn’t looked back.
“I’m running away from my addictions,” said Firth. “Sometimes I think about my addiction behind me and it’s chasing me. Because it’s progressive, incurable and fatal, and I know about that. I spent 20 years on the streets of Vancouver smoking cocaine. It will eat me if I stop my campaign.”
He moved back to Inuvik in December after touring N.W.T. communities to talk with youth about healthy lifestyles.
When he heard about the Yukon government’s plan to open up the Peel watershed to development, Firth found a new reason to run.
“I just want to do what I can through action. I don’t want the Dempster Highway to be ruined. I don’t want all these big trucks, roads and development messing up on the highway up there and all the beautiful scenery and the water and everything like that.”
Last month the Yukon government released a plan for the Peel watershed that sees 71 per cent of the area opened up for new mineral staking. It’s a far cry from the 20 per cent recommended by the planning commission for the area.
The Tr’ondek Hwech’in and First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun have sued the government over the decision. The Gwich’in Tribal Council has announced it will launch legal action as well.
The Gwich’in people have called the Peel watershed home for millennia.
Communities of Fort McPherson and Aklavik are on the Peel River itself. Anything that happens in Yukon portions of the watershed eventually flows to them.
These days Firth is training up to two hours a day, running around Inuvik. He won’t let the extreme cold hold him back.
“I think about the old ancestors there, they used to run with snowshoes in -40 weather hundreds and hundreds of miles. I just honour them when I run. I believe I get their strength, their endurance, their stamina.”
He likes it when people recognize him around town and stop for a handshake or a hug, he said.
“I get a lot of comments, ranging from, ‘Hey Caribou Legs, good for you! Keep it up, keep going!’ They’re really encouraging, really positive, really warming. Some of the kids run with me. They want to race with me.”
He will run from Inuvik to Whitehorse over three weeks with a symbolic satchel of letters for the premier.
Firth hopes many more letters will be carried in his support vehicle.
The letters are being collected at the Gwich’in Tribal Council office in Inuvik, he said. They are already starting to trickle in.
He hopes that people in the communities along the 1,227-kilometre journey will come out to watch, run alongside and carry messages of support for the Peel, he said.
Whitehorse is far from the end of Caribou Legs’s journey. In May he plans to run all the way from Vancouver to Inuvik.
That trip, too, will be dedicated to raising awareness and support for the Peel, he said.
You can follow Firth’s journey by
visiting the Caribou Legs Facebook page.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at