Kwe Pack Heals Through Running

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kwe pack heals through running.jpgA collective of Anishinaabe women in northern Minnesota found strength

with one another. Their journey to health and wellness brought them

together gradually and almost synchronously since 2012. It all began

with some inspiration.

After completing a half marathon in 2011,

Chally Topping-Thompson (Red Cliff Ojibwe) encouraged her friend,

Sarah Agaton Howes (Fond du Lac Ojibwe) to finish a 5K run. This was

the birth of the movement now known as the “Kwe Pack,” a women’s

running society. In the Ojibwe language, “Kwe” can be translated

to “Woman,” but a deeper linguist investigation into this word

reveal a description of a sacred, life giving being. In Ojibwe

culture, women are considered precious pieces of the nation.

The Kwe Pack evolved to a group of

mothers, professionals, wives and students all currently committed to

running together along the woodland trails on the Fond du Lac

reservation. Topping-Thompson is currently the Indian Child Welfare

Director at the Red Cliff Chippewa Tribal Offices and Agaton Howes is

the House of Howes artist, teacher and Inspired Natives Collaborator.

The group started gaining momentum

when they decided to participate in The Superior Hiking Trail 25K

with a group of seven Indigenous women in 2013. The following year,

16 completed the Superior Hiking Trail 25K and 22 finished just this

spring.

As one of the original Kwe Pack

runners, Agaton Howes said she was honored to be a part of this event

as she saw the numbers of Indigenous women participating in the 25K

increased every year. “10 percent of the entire Superior Hiking

Trail 25K this year was Indigenous. It feels so amazing to see our

people over-represented in something healthy,” she said.

Alicia

Cyr (Grand Portage Ojibwe), a 27 year-old mother and Administrative

Assistant at the College of Saint Scholastica in Duluth, began

running with the Kwe Pack in 2013, shortly after the devastating loss

of her grandmother. She reflects on how meaningful being part of the

Kwe Pack is to her, “These ladies are amazingly tenacious. It’s

hard to describe fully what my heart feels for this group of

life-giving women.” She had been struggling to find a sense of

balance after her grandmother passed away, but found the Kwe Pack to

be a supportive, safe space to share similar struggles with other

Indigenous women, “I hear my grandmother in the Kwe Pack’s

laughter out on those trails, we offer each other courage and

wisdom.”

Each of the women are affected in some way by the

health disparities that are so prominent in Native communities;

diabetes or substance abuse, for example.

Annette Renquist (Fond du Lac) joined

the Kwe Pack after the birth of her son. She had watched her family

members suffer as diabetes gripped their bodies. “I signed up for a

half marathon at first by myself because wanted to help my family be

healthy.” Agaton Howes strongly believes that contemporary

lifestyles, which involve being extremely sedentary, is killing

Native people, “Our bodies were created for movement. Our inactive

lifestyles bring about new diseases of epidemic proportions. They are

the new smallpox.”

Embracing a healthy lifestyle as Native

people has become an urgent matter for the Kwe Pack. They have taken

the initiative to reclaim not only Indigenous wellness, but

exercising tribal sovereignty as well. They utilize their tribal

homelands by running in the wooded trails. Agaton Howes describes her

experience as she runs with her Kwe Pack sisters in the woods, “I

feel connected to our ancestors. I feel them when we’re out there

on those trails; the same trails they hunted, gathered, traveled,

portaged and lived in.”

As mothers, professionals and keepers

of the culture, the ladies have found solace in the company of one

another. Topping-Thompson shares how influential the other women have

been to her, “We have a feeling of belonging to something bigger

than ourselves. We are in a safe and very positive place.” She

continued, “We carry our Indigenous identity proudly. It’s

refreshing to be a part of a group where other Native women actually

build one another up!”

The Pack also rely on one another as a

resource by carpooling or sharing childcare providers, it’s how they

come together to help one another in all aspects of their lives.

Renquist started running about five years ago on her own and

recalls her experience, “It was awesome to finish a half marathon,

but I felt something was missing. That’s when I started running

with the Kwe Pack.” She also went through difficult times in her

life that could have taken her into depression, but she credits the

Kwe Pack for the support and encouragement to continue to thrive. “We

understand each other. I can share my challenges with them and they

are there to help heal my life,” she said.

The Kwe Pack

collectively hopes their actions will inspire other Indigenous women

across the continent to take the first step on their journey to

wellness. Cyr offers some insight, “Have a fearless heart. I

encourage all women to join or create a group like this. It has the

amazing ability to transform hearts and communities.”

Poem

by Chally Topping-Thompson

All

lovely 254 lbs of her pounded the earth to begin her life as a

runner. She felt out of breath, she felt fat, she felt dumb. All

those feelings she knew she didn’t want to carry anymore. Left in

the ditches and dirt of those Rez roads. Somewhere she knew she had

to. For her children she was yet to meet, for those who are waiting

for her. And with every bit of hope to inspire another, to make

healthy her normal, because all that, even the 254 lbs, it was her.

All for love and life.