Running for Danica Weager is good medicine.
The Nelson resident is a lifelong runner. She started as a child with her mother, and now takes her own young son in a stroller for jogs.
But Weager’s commitment to running — her daily streak is currently over 620 days — isn’t just about exercise. Weager’s mother is from the Peguis First Nation in Manitoba, and her father is of settler ancestry. Running, she says, is about her culture.
“We run every day because movement really is our medicine. It’s how we connect to the land, how we connect to our spirituality, how we connect to each other, ourselves. I just really believe in the connection of movement, medicine and being good for mental and spiritual cultural healing.”
Weager is among the volunteers organizing Movement is Medicine, a trail race scheduled in Nelson on Sept. 30, which is National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
It’s the first year the 15-kilometre race will be held, and acts as a fundraiser for the Circle of Indigenous Nations Society.
Weager, who works at Selkirk College as a councillor for Indigenous students, was approached by Alexandra Forsythe and Randy Richmond who wanted to ask if a race on the day in question could be culturally appropriate.
Weager had already been marking the day with a run every year since it was first observed in 2013 as Orange Shirt Day, and was thrilled by the idea.
“There’s so much pressure put on the Indigenous community to put events on this day, and it’s really a day that we need to do a lot of healing ourselves. So it’s not really for the Indigenous community to organize. [Alex] and Randy really stepped up and came forward with this idea and it felt like that kind of dream coming alive for me.”
The race starts with a ceremony at Lakeside Park before athletes are transported to the Lyon’s Bluff trailhead. From there it is seven kilometres up 1,200 metres of elevation to a CBC tower, then across the top of Elephant Mountain to the Canada flagpole and back down past Pulpit Rock, over the Nelson Bridge with a finish at Lakeside.
Forsythe is the founder of the Run Like A Mother road race held in May. She credited Richmond with coming up with the idea for a trail race that highlights some of Nelson’s most popular routes.
“The Friends of Pulpit Rock have put so much time and energy into creating this beautiful trail, so I think it’s a really great way to show off the hard work of the people who have created the loop around Elephant Mountain.”
But unlike typical races, Movement is Medicine is about more than winning medals.
Weager said she was once reminded by Elder Gerry Oldman that running has long been a necessity for Indigenous peoples.
“The story he shared was about our people being able to run fast enough to run a deer down, for example. Our survival since time immemorial here on Turtle Island depended on our physical fitness and our strength and our health that way.”
Weager also hopes runners use the event as a time for reflection. Her own grandfather was a child survivor of an Indian day school, which were separate from residential schools and not included in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
In 2019, the federal government agreed to a settlement for survivors of the schools. About 200,000 children attended the schools in Canada and were found to have endured physical and sexual abuse.
Weager said she’ll be meditating on that history when she hits the trail for the race.
“Thinking about all of those residential school survivors, all the kids who had to run and didn’t make it home.”
The deadline to register for Movement is Medicine is Sept. 23.