Joe Keeper

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Joseph Benjamin Keeper (January 17, 1886 - September 29, 1971) was a Canadian long distance runner, and a member of the 1912 Canadian Olympic team.

Keeper, a member of the Norway House Cree Nation, was born at Walker Lake, Manitoba. He was sent to Brandon for schooling at the Brandon Indian Residential School, and it was while there, at high school, that he showed an enthusiasm for long distance running.

In 1910, Keeper moved to Winnipeg, where he joined the North End Amateur Athletic Club. The following year he set a Canadian record for the ten mile run.

In 1912, he was selected to the Canadian Olympic team, and participated at the 1912 Summer Olympics at Stockholm, Sweden. He raced in the 5000 metre run and in the 10,000 metre run, where he finished fourth in the 10,000 and ninth in the 5,000, the best result ever for a Canadian runner in those events.[1]

In 1916, Keeper joined the Army, and served for two years in France. He received a Military Medal for his brave actions at the Cambria during WWI.[2][3] In 1917, Keeper joined with Tom Longboat to win an inter-Allied cross country championship near Vimy Ridge. Longboat, Keeper, and other First Nation long-distance runners A. Jamieson and John Nackaway served as despatch carriers for the 107th Pioneer Battalion.[4] Keeper received three medals for his service for his duty, that claimed him the most decorated Canadian Indian [5]

Keeper was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of fame, Canada's sports hall of fame and also the Manitoba sports hall of fame.[6] Following the war, he returned to Winnipeg, where he worked as a carpenter, before moving back to the northern part of the province, where he worked for the Hudson's Bay Company until he retired in 1951. He and his wife Christina McLeod had seven children[7][8] four sons and three daughters. His granddaughter is actress and Canadian politician Tina Keeper.

Keeper not only known for his legacy as an elite long distance runner or for his heroic time spent during WWI. Joe keeper proud of his Norway house Cree First nation background, fought for his right to keep his culture close to him. Keeper was a role model for the next generation to fight against racism towards their culture. He was said to be to be a kind, and strong man who felt it was his duty to remember his background as a Cree stating it was his "territory". He preached something so powerful that the next generation of Aboriginals may keep close to their hearts, "Our land, language, culture and family are god given". His family and many of his Cree People, look to Joe keeper for giving them a sense of resilience and strength to fight for who they are. Joe keeper was fortunate to leave the residential school because of his discovered talent as an athlete. When 150,000 people attended residential schools where they were forced to assimilate stripping them of their culture. He was in a constant battle to fight for where he came from, his granddaughter and aboriginal people today may carry on his legacy.[9]

The Joe Keeper Memorial Run (now the Joe Keeper - Angela Chalmers celebration run) is held each spring by the Manitoba Runners’ Association.[10] The Norway House Cree Nation holds memorial races in Keeper's name.[11]

Keeper was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of fame, Canada's sports hall of fame and also the Manitoba sports hall of fame.[12] Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in 1984.[13]


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