By Danielle Vienneau

Photo credit: University of Manitoba Photography

Tréchelle Bunn is the founder and race director of the Reconciliation Run, Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Half-Marathon, which took place on September 30, 2022. The starting point was on the ruins of what was once the Birtle Indian Residential School, and the finish line in Bunn’s home community.

Just shy of her 23rd birthday, Bunn has developed quite an impressive resume. Not only is she an advocate for Indigenous Peoples but she is a motivational speaker, a full-time university student and a competitive hockey player. As a positive role model for youth, she draws her strength from her family and community—a proud Dakota Winyan from Chan Kagha Otina Dakhóta Oyáte (Birdtail Sioux Dakota Nation).

Bunn grew up in the small town of Wampum in Southeastern Manitoba, Canada, located along the Minnesota border and was introduced to sports and physical activity at a very young age. She has since used the skills she developed as an athlete to excel in all aspects of her life, including her education.

Currently living in Winnipeg, Bunn is earning a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Manitoba (UofM), studying Criminology with a minor in Indigenous Studies, with the goal of attending the Juris Doctor Program at Robson Hall (Faculty of Law). She is a Dean’s Honour List student and a three-time Academic All-Canadian.

At the UofM, Bunn is a member of the student leadership group, the Indigenous Circle of Empowerment and a member of the Bison Women’s Hockey team, competing at the USPORTS level. She has connected her love for sport and leadership through her work with the Bison Sports Indigenous Engagement Program where she serves as an Indigenous role model in sport. Through the Indigenous Engagement program, Bunn has spent a lot of time and effort ensuring that other Indigenous youth see themselves represented in sports. “That saying ‘see it, believe it, achieve it’ is really important. If youth can see other Indigenous people occupying these [elite sport and education] spaces then it allows them to visualize themselves in those environments. It’s really critical to have that representation,” says Bunn.

Bunn has been recognized for her exceptional leadership as the 2022 recipient of the prestigious University of Manitoba Indigenous Award of Excellence for Community Building, as well as the 2022 recipient of the University of Manitoba UMSU Award for Indigenous Community Leaders. Most recently she was honoured by the Nellie McClung Foundation as an Inspiring Young Woman. When she is not playing hockey or organizing national events, Bunn also speaks to youth as the Indigenous Network Representative and mental health advocate for the Canadian non-profit Jack.org.

Bunn will be applying for Law School this winter in anticipation of graduating in the spring. In the future, she looks forward to
promoting change within Canada and within the criminal justice system. “Breaking into that field and continuing to follow in the steps of other Indigenous lawyers and trailblazers like Murray Sinclair is really important to me,” says Bunn. In the future, she also hopes to put her name forward to run for Chief in her community of Birdtail Sioux Dakota Nation.

SAY Magazine recently spoke with Bunn about her life and her efforts to provide physical outlets for healing for her community by drawing on her belief of ‘movement as medicine’. Find out more about her endeavours, including the 26 km Healing Walk that gained national attention and Canada’s first Reconciliation Run.

Movement as Medicine – Interview with Tréchelle Bunn

SAY: How did you get involved in sports?
Bunn: I was just three years old the first time my dad put me on skates. He built a rink in our backyard in Wampum and, ever since then, I fell in love with the game of hockey. Coming up on 20 years of playing hockey in March, it’s definitely been a critical part of my life, and it’s shaped me into who I am today. It’s also given me a platform to use my voice, share my story and bring awareness to different Indigenous issues. That is one of the things I’m most grateful to the sport for, is having the opportunity to talk about my family and my community.

SAY: Tell us more about where you grew up.
Bunn: Growing up I spent a lot of time in my home community of Birdtail Sioux Dakota Nation, especially during the summers with my Kunshi (grandmother) Pauline and my Unkan (grandfather) Terry who live there. It’s a really pretty First Nation, and right behind my grandparent’s house is a big valley and there’s a river running right through it. My cousins and I would spend a lot of time racing up and down the hills, having different competitions with each other to see who could make it up the fastest. That also ties into my connection with sport and being active—it was just always a part of my life, my community and my family.

SAY: How do you practise holistic health?
Bunn: Movement for me is really important. It is a way to stay balanced and feel connected to my culture—that traditional way of life where Indigenous Peoples were always physically active, whether it was for dancing or ceremony or for hunting and gathering. I think sport as a whole has a way of bringing people together that is really powerful. I believe people want to move their bodies and do things in a good way. I organized a Healing Walk in July 2021, and then the Reconciliation Run in September, because walking and/or running is something that most people can do, and it really brings people together. I think
holistic health is doing what is accessible to you—doing things in a good way and trusting yourself, your body and your instincts, and having that self-reflection time to determine what your body needs to be your best self.

SAY: Tell us about the Healing Walk you organized for your community in 2021.
Bunn: The healing walk took place on July 1st, soon after hearing about the 215 recoveries in Kamloops. That news obviously
hit our communities in a different way than it hit the rest of Canada and the rest of the world. It’s unfortunate that my story isn’t really unique when it comes to the Indigenous community—the stories of children being buried at residential schools, and unmarked graves, aren’t something new to the Indigenous community for a lot of us. Those are the stories that our grandparents told us, our parents told us. This reopened a lot of trauma and caused more pain. It was gut-wrenching.

For a lot of survivors, this was the first time that people acknowledged what they’d been saying for years. I knew I wanted to provide a way for healing to take place for my family and my community. The idea of doing a walk came from my family, my Unkan Donald, a Birtle residential school survivor. He would tell me that when he was at the school, he wanted nothing more than to run away and go home. He never did make the attempt though because he witnessed the consequences his classmates
endured when they did try to run. It’s something that always stuck in the back of my mind. I wanted to have meaning behind this walk—I wanted to walk home for my Unkan and all the children who never got to run or walk home on their own terms.

Once I made a post on Facebook, people started sharing it, and it picked up a lot of traction very quickly.

SAY: What was the most impactful part of the Healing Walk?
Bunn: For me, the most impactful part of the whole thing was when we all gathered on the front lawn of the former Birtle residential school. Before the walk began, Terry Wasteste, an Elder from my community and a residential school survivor, shared his story and talked about how he did try to run away from the school but was unsuccessful and faced very serious consequences for doing so. It was a beautiful and emotional moment because he has so much hope for the future. One of my favourite things about Terry is his outlook on life—how he’s healed and is no longer angry, and how he believes reconciliation is achievable if we all work together. I think that caught the attention of not only people from my community, and not only Indigenous people, but I think it hit home for a lot of non-Indigenous people. His speech and the pipe ceremony that followed
were so poignant—it still gives me chills just talking about it—knowing that he performed a crucial part of our culture on the front lawn of the very institution that tried to eradicate us. It was definitely a reclamation of that space not only for him but for all the elders and survivors who were there that day.

SAY: How did the Healing Walk evolve into the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Run?
Bunn: I was really inspired by the Healing Walk experience, so I knew I wanted to do something recurring in order to continue the healing process and education. The walk was 26 kilometres and a half marathon is 21.1 kilometres, so we decided
to turn it into a half marathon. So Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Half Marathon—the Reconciliation Run—took place on September 30th of this year and started on the former grounds of the Birtle residential school.

Even the non-Indigenous community showed that they wanted to be involved. It was an inclusive event that was easy to be a part of—a tangible way to show support and move toward reconciliation. The run provided people with education, reflection and learning, and I think that was the most important thing to me.

SAY: Were there any special moments from the Reconciliation Run that stand out in your mind?
Bunn: What stands out most for me from the 21.1 kilometre Reconciliation Run was one woman who said her legs hurt and she was so tired—it was the first half marathon she had ever participated in—but she kept going because she knew that so many children would have given anything to have kept running. People kept going in honour of those children who never got the chance to. There are no words to describe the interconnectedness that was felt during the run and during the feast that followed. I think it was an overall beautiful event, and I’m looking forward to seeing it grow and helping it grow in the coming years.

For more information and to get involved in the 2023 National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Half Marathon, please visit reconciliationrun.ca.

Danielle Vienneau, Editor-in-Chief of SAY Magazine, believes in the power of sharing stories to inspire greatness in others. To submit your story, email editor@saymag.com.