by: Raven Nesbitt
The stereotypical athlete is usually seen as a jock, obsessed with sports culture with no regards to any other subject, often referred to as “musclehead” or “musclebrain” or even “meathead.” So you don’t usually envision an athlete encompassing both their running shoes and their voice as a way to raise awareness for an important cause.
However, this is the narrative that should be accepted because athleticism and intelligence aren’t mutually exclusive. Athletes are allowed to be more than their label and they can use their athletic prowess as a platform for advancement. Advancement for the minority and the underrepresented.
Tracie Léost (born 1998) is a Métis woman who encompasses both. At this time (2019), Léost is a three time track and field medalist, retired hockey player, and Indigenous youth coach who uses her athletic gifts as a means of advocating for missing and murdered Indigenous women. Since she was seventeen, she has orchestrated numerous events to raise awareness around this tragedy. Léost is no stranger to activism in other ways, as well. Some examples of her work include donating hair to people with cancer who have lost theirs due to treatment to creating a mental health club at her school,
Léost became interested in social activism after taking an Indigenous studies class in 2015. Her teacher assigned the class to research a missing or murdered Indigenous woman and to tell their story. She learned that over 4,000 Indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered each year since 1980. Léost realizes how this issue has yet to be prioritized by citizens of Canada and the Canadian government. She explains, “People normalized the fact that there were thousands of Indigenous women missing and they would just eat their dinner and just listen to it” (Léost, “Manitoba Teen”). Léost recognizes the severity of the issue and people’s inability to do anything. She expresses concern because these women are more than a statistic, these women are mothers, sisters, wives. These women are people and their lives matter just as much as anyone else’s.
Léost realized how each report of a missing or murdered indigenous woman was ignored because it lacked the platform to bring attention to the matter. She understood that indigenous people aren’t voiceless, they just need people to listen. Silence has become a luxury and now flourishes off of those who have created the noise we wish to escape. Meaning that we confuse not being heard with not having anything to say. She recognizes that indigenous youth doesn’t need someone to be a voice for them, they need people to listen, learn, and amplify their voices. While the voices of indigenous people are pushed down and left out, Tracie Léost has grown restless and fought back. Tracie Léost made a seat at the table. She forced conversation and gave a voice to the “voiceless”.
Tracie Léost was intent on bringing awareness to this issue, so she planned a four day 115 km run from Oak Point to Winnipeg. She was determined to help her people and protect their culture as much as she could, because it was important to her. She ran through her running shoes until the blisters on her feet got so bad that she had to run in her Moccasins, but it didn’t stop her because the blisters didn’t equate to the pain and suffering of the indigenous women. The same way Léost didn’t let her blisters discourage her from finishing the marathon is the same way she didn’t let her age stop her from leading a movement.
“I wanted to create change and show other indigenous youth that anything was possible” (Indspire, “Tracie Léost “).
Léost raised over $6,000 for the Families First Foundation and amassed worldwide attention. A year later, the Canadian government launched the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Léost represents those forgotten by the rest of the world, and to many she represents hope because she gives a voice to silence.
Since her marathon, Léost has appeared in the music video for Cass McComb’s “Run, Sister, Run” and spoke on Parliament Hill for Canada Day which ultimately led to her receiving the Indspire award in 2018, “the highest honour bestowed on indigenous youth” (Thomas, “Métis teen activist”).
Tracie Léost is now pursuing a degree in social work at the University of Regina to continue to advocate for her community. At college, Léost continues her work as she continues with smaller projects to support misrepresented groups, like collecting hygiene products for women’s shelters during the holiday seasons. When she’s not acting as a full-time student or a dedicated activist, Léost is able to relieve stress and coach little league hockey. She uses her position as coach to encourage indigenous youth to follow their dreams, despite indigenous youth not being represented in the rink.
As Léost interviews for Hockey in Society, she explains why she began coaching indigenous youth.“Being a successful athlete is only another barrier for Indigenous people in Canada — a barrier we must break” (Léost, “An Interview with Tracie Léost”). In making this statement, Léost recognizes the lack of representation of indigenous people in the hockey rink. She encourages indigenous youth to push past society’s preconceived notions and break through their glass ceiling. However this call to action was not geared just towards First Nations, but also towards communities and businesses. When these indigenous groups live in isolated communities, they lack the resources necessary and settle with using insufficient equipment which, ultimately, hinder the youth. As a hockey coach, she has found another way to support one of the communities she belongs to.
Tracie Léost is more than an obtuse stereotype of what an athlete is supposed to be as she excels in multiple activities. In such a sports-based world where athletes receive more attention than crisis, it is necessary for these stars to use their platform to advocate for those whose voices have been neglected. Léost has used her athletic gifts for more than just sports, she has created a platform— so when she speaks, people listen. Léost could not afford to be silent in the face of injustice. We can not afford to be silent in a world of unfairness and inequality.
Indspire. “Tracie Léost.” Indspire, 2018, https://indspire.ca/laureate/tracie-leost/. Accessed 9 September 2019.
Szto, Courtney. “An Interview with Tracie Léost: Player, Coach, Activist.” Hockey in Society, 23 August 2018, https://hockeyinsociety.com/2018/06/19/tracie-leost/. Accessed 9 September 2019.
Thomas, Tess. “Métis Teen Activist and Athlete Speaks out for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.” Medium, Malala Fund – Archive, 14 February 2018, https://blog.malala.org/métis-teen-activist-and-athlete-speaks-out-for-missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-7c34b7eaab55. Accessed 15 September 2019.
“Manitoba Teen Completes 115-Km Run for Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 22 Aug. 2015, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/manitoba-teen-completes-115-km-run-for-missing-murdered-indigenous-women-1.3200623. Accessed 15 September 2019.
“Tracie Léost- Inspiring Awareness.” Youtube. Uploaded by Indspire, 21 November 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7t9VtoSnbbM. Accessed 23 September 2019.