Terry Fox’s Family Embraces Its Indigenous Ancestry

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

On September 1, 2021 - the 41st anniversary of the end of the Marathon of Hope - Darrell Fox talks about his family’s Métis heritage, which is acknowledged in this year’s Terry Fox Run t-shirt design, and reflects on his brother’s legacy.

Darrell Fox with his brother Terry during the Marathon of Hope. The historic run ended on September 1, 1980 after cancer returned to Terry’s body.

Darrell Fox with his brother Terry during the Marathon of Hope. The historic run ended on September 1, 1980 after cancer returned to Terry’s body.

At the age of 17, Terry Fox’s younger brother, Darrell Fox, was part of the support team for the Marathon of Hope, including when it was here in Wilmot on July 20, 1980. Terry’s epic run ended on September 1 of that year after cancer returned to his body.

Seven years ago, the Fox family discovered its Métis ancestry, and that kinship is acknowledged in the design for this year’s official Terry Fox Run t-shirt.

I spoke with Darrell Fox about his family’s history and his brother’s legacy.

How did you learn about your Métis ancestry?

Darrell Fox: It was the great work of a couple of our Wark cousins – Mom’s maiden name – who initially obtained their Métis status in Alberta and Manitoba. With the assistance of Métis Nation B.C., we’re able to add more of our ancestral Métis history.

What were your initial thoughts when you learned about the background of your grandmother, Marion Gladue?

I was fascinated. My grandma was an integral part of our family in the early years. She attended every grandchild’s wedding – and there were many – and was always there during the difficult times. Grandma would travel from her home in Melita, Manitoba, to spend time supporting our family while Terry was going through cancer.

I don’t think it was a coincidence that Terry died on Grandma’s birthday. It made for a difficult day for her, but I always thought it spoke to how important a mentor she was to the person Terry would evolve into.

Did you know you had Indigenous ancestry?

I was aware of Grandma’s First Nations lineage. It’s right there in front of you with her appearance, but it was never discussed because we knew it was off-limits.

How did you and your family feel when you started to learn more about your grandmother’s life? Was that painful?

I do not believe the early years for Marion Gladue were happy ones. She was raised on Turtle Mountain, a First Nations reservation in North Dakota, after her ancestors fled the Red River settlement a couple of decades earlier. The stigma of being First Nations was real. It does take time to adjust to this new knowledge, though the interest and thirst to learn and understand is strong.

Your family is honouring its Métis heritage with the design of this year’s Terry Fox Run t-shirt. Are there other ways that you acknowledge your ancestry?

I have Métis status through Métis Nation B.C. They have been very welcoming to our family and I continue to engage with them on other initiatives, including a Terry Fox sash, which will be made available later this year. I also continue to keep updated on current Métis Nation issues, both regionally and nationally.

This year’s Terry Fox Run t-shirt pays tribute to the Fox family’s Métis heritage. It’s available in Wilmot from New Hamburg Office Pro. (Design by Kim Vizi-Carmen; illustration by Mallory Blondeau)

When it comes to the Terry Fox Run, do you have any plans for referencing your family’s Métis ancestry on a permanent basis every year? For example, using Michif (the Métis language) translations on t-shirts, alongside English and French?

I would hope going forward that Terry’s Métis ancestry will always be highlighted in some way annually. The addition of Métis translations with annual themes and messaging would be a nice way to acknowledge this.

Knowing what you know now, can you think of any qualities Terry had that are reflected in Métis beliefs and traditions?

Terry’s selfless quality, humbleness, and commitment to help others is very much a part of the Métis culture and tradition. It was surreal to learn that our ancestors were buffalo hunters. Terry chose to run across this great and grand land!

For millions of people, Terry is a hero and an icon, and the Run in September is celebratory. Would it be fair to assume that for the Fox family this is a bitter-sweet time as you reflect on the loss of a loved one?

Every day is a day I reflect on the loss of Terry. Absolutely, Terry is more prominent at this time of year, but for us, as family members, the loss is always fresh and close as we live it every day. I would ask for nothing less as it is both part of the healing process and a way to fight back against a disease that knows no bounds. I try to honour Terry by trying my very best every day.

The first official Terry Fox Run was held in 1981. Did you think it would still be going four decades later?

I have always believed Terry’s story and inclusive message and dream would be relevant for decades to come as I have always believed in the Terry Foxers from coast to coast who have picked up Terry’s baton to continue the Marathon of Hope.

It’s 25 years since the first Terry Fox Run in our community back in 1996. Do you have a message for Wilmot during its silver anniversary year?

Warmest congratulations to all in the Wilmot community for perpetuating Terry’s dream of eradicating cancer since 1996. As a family member, we are very much aware of your accomplishments and commitment to all things Terry.