People & Culture

Charmaine Parenteau and Jennifer Demers on the One Spirit Unity Run

The RCMP colleagues discuss the Canada-wide 5K fun run in the spirit of healing and reconciliation 

  • Sep 11, 2023
  • 884 words
  • 4 minutes
Charmaine Parenteau (left) and Jennifer Demers (right), along with colleague Célina Sévigny, hope One Spirit Unity Run furthers reconciliation. (Photo: Ben Powless/Can Geo)
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Indigenous-guided and community-led, this October’s inaugural One Spirit Unity Run is a story about a powerful vision followed by a whole lot of consultation, collaboration and hard work. RCMP Cpl. Jennifer Demers credits Métis lawyer and podcaster Myrna McCallum for the vision that would launch a Canada-wide 5K fun run in the spirit of healing and reconciliation. It was Sept. 30, 2022, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and Demers was listening to McCallum’s podcast, “The Trauma-Informed Lawyer,” when she had a sudden vision: a Canada-wide event to raise awareness and funds for Indigenous-operated healing initiatives. Over the next several months, she, Cpl. Charmaine Parenteau, who is Cree and Métis from Duck Lake, Saskatchewan, and countless collaborators made it happen. On October 22, the One Spirit Unity Run takes place in 11 communities across the country.

On naming the run

Demers: Unity is a theme that kept coming up in the consultation process. We wanted to unite everybody. And then Myrna [McCallum] told us to go back and think about the word unity — research it and think about that. We have unity, plus one spirit — people coming together as one.

On the planning process

Parenteau: We spoke with Elders, knowledge keepers, grandmothers, clans, Grand Chiefs — we gathered information. When we spoke to people, they guided us. We asked if they welcomed this idea. Sometimes we switched gears. For instance, it didn’t work out this year to have a run in Halifax, but our partners said, “You know what, we’ve got Millbrook, which has a big Indigenous community. Can we have it there?”

On finalizing the routes

Parenteau: The routes are varied and we wanted participants to put forward their ideas. That was a big part of the planning process. Some run routes will be very meaningful and important to the communities. For an example, there will be runs near reserves, runs along the water.

On event goals

Demers: We want to create a safe space for all Canadians coast to coast to coast, whether it is members of Indigenous communities, whether it is law enforcement. We want everyone to come together to make a positive movement: create that awareness and start that dialogue. Walk in one direction, together. The impact of it being in 11 communities on the same day will be undeniable.

On the power of running

Parenteau: I used to walk with my grandmother. We did the most talking while walking. And running, for me, has always been my way of healing. Running is the connection with the land, and I feel like running actually healed me — and it continues to heal me — from my own traumas. I run in the forest all the time. There’s something about Mother Earth. She heals you.

We want everyone to come together to make a positive movement: create that awareness and start that dialogue. Walk in one direction, together. 

On making it safe

Demers: There are communities and certain parts of the country where people aren’t comfortable with the RCMP, uniforms, police. We created a blue bracelet for law enforcement to wear instead of coming in wearing uniforms. It shows that law enforcement is here supporting. They’re not wearing a uniform. We want to engage. It creates that extra layer of safety so people feel comfortable, because the uniform can be triggering.

On encountering rejection

Demers: We always led with love. We haven’t been received well all the time and that’s okay. We accept that. When we began this journey, we said if we do it from our heart and our intentions are pure and good, then that’s all we can do. 

On words to live by

Parenteau: Teresa Edwards [executive director of Legacy of Hope Foundation, an Indigenous-led charitable organization working to promote healing and reconciliation] said “lead in the light.” And that has really stuck with me. Move forward; make that personal commitment to truth and reconciliation. As an individual, how can you make small changes? We’re all learning and we’re all making mistakes. I’m Métis and I still make mistakes. The important thing is to learn.

On the future

Demers: We definitely want to expand this program. There have been communities that have expressed interest in wanting to participate this year, but their members couldn’t make it to one of the 11 locations. So next year, we would love to help some of those communities to organize their own runs. We would also love to see the runs being led by an Indigenous organization in the future. Our goal is to be able to give the program fully to a national Indigenous organization. It would be amazing to have One Spirit Unity Runs in 30, or even more, locations.

On where they will be on race day

Parenteau: We still don’t know where we’ll be! We’re based in Ottawa, so that’s an option. Iqaluit would be amazing. We had such a deep experience working on that race. I used to work in Yellowknife, so to be able to run there would be amazing, too. Any of the communities, really.

Demers: Wherever we end up running, I feel like we need to be together. Organizing this event, we have struggled together. We have thrived together. We have cried together.

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