Indigenous, two-spirit couple from Alberta wins Amazing Race Canada

Anthony Johnson and James Makokis plan to continue fundraising for a cultural healing centre

Amazing Race Canada contestants Anthony Johnson, left, and James Makokis, Team Ahkameyimok, are photographed in Toronto, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

Amazing Race Canada contestants Anthony Johnson, left, and James Makokis, Team Ahkameyimok, are photographed in Toronto, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

Anthony Johnson and James Makokis hoped being the first Indigenous, two-spirit couple to compete on The Amazing Race Canada would give them a national platform to highlight issues close to their hearts.

Over weeks of intense challenges that saw them criss-cross the country, the pair donned outfits meant to call attention to specific topics: handmade red skirts and a bandana for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, blue shirts emblazoned with “Water Is Life” to show the cultural and ceremonial importance of water.

Now that they’ve been crowned the winners, the married couple — who identify as two-spirit, a term used by some Indigenous peoples to describe their gender, sexual and spiritual identity — said they want to use their fame to continue fundraising for a cultural healing centre in Alberta’s Kehewin Cree Nation.

But first, they want to celebrate their groundbreaking victory, get some sleep and maybe go on vacation, they said Tuesday in an interview just hours before the show’s finale was set to air.

“We want a week on the beach somewhere hot because we had no summer. We need a tan,” Makokis said with a laugh.

The show’s seventh season, which hit the airwaves in July but was filmed earlier this year, started in Toronto and ended in central Ontario’s Muskoka region. Each episode saw the teams face off in challenges, such as a mock press conference or a game of sledge hockey.

Makokis, a family physician originally from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation in Alberta, and Johnson, a project consultant born in Arizona’s Navajo Nation, said it was important for them to use the spotlight to raise awareness.

“Representing missing and murdered Indigenous women was important because it happens, it happens and people don’t talk about it,” Johnson said.

Many Indigenous communities were matriarchal before colonization and the couple felt it was important to show support for the women leaders in their community, Makokis added.

They also wanted to show two-spirit and transgender youth “that it’s OK to be different,” he said.

“If there’s two guys wearing a dress, they want to express their identity differently than the norm, then why does that matter? How is it hurting somebody else?” Makokis said.

“Because I have a large transgender population in my medical practice and I see the results of social isolation, it sends a strong message when their doctor is saying that…and we wanted to do that, we thought it was really important.”

Some moments were particularly emotional for the pair, including a challenge that Makokis said stirred up intergenerational trauma and led him to tears.

While Makokis did not go to a residential school, many others in his family did, including his father, who was the first to later attend an integrated school with French-speaking children, he said. Every day, his father faced slurs and violence, and Makokis said a challenge in which he was forced to speak French brought up those family memories.

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Other moments stood out for more pleasant reasons. While racing to get on a plane in Kamloops, the two — who were wearing their red skirts — made eye contact with an Indigenous baggage handler, who broke into a huge smile, Johnson recalled.

The win comes with a $250,000 prize, a trip for two around the world, and two new vehicles.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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