It did not take long.
A few months ago an Indigenous couple — Anthony Johnson and James Makokis — won Canada’s The Amazing Race on CBC.
That season seven was showcase is already having some positive repercussions on Indigenous youth. Two young Cree cousins dressed up as the celebrity duo for Halloween.
Willow Cardinal, 9, dressed up as Makokis while 12-year-old Tenicia Cardinal went as Johnson donning their red racing outfits completed with a grandma scarf and braids. Their mom, Farrah Cardinal, drove to the Enoch Cree Nation Health Center in Edmonton, Alberta, to surprise Dr. Makokis.
“I really wanted James to see them, they’re too cute,” said Farrah Cardinal who is Willow Cardinal’s mom and Tenicia Cardinal’s aunt. It was her aunt who suggested Tenicia Cardinal to be Makokis. “She loved it and then Willow asked her cousin Tenicia to be Anthony to her James.”
The youth’s kokum, or grandma, made the skirts and everything else came together.
“They got a really good positive response from their home community Kehewin,” Farrah Cardinal said.
Social media went crazy with shares, likes and comments.
Feedback ranged from “This is incredibly adorable. Give them all the treats!!” to “James and Anthony you two are fantastic role models!!!!” and everything in between.
Makokis smiles big in the photos and said on Facebook, “Here’s the next team from #kehewinCreeNation set to audition for [The Amazing Race Canada] Season 8 #doppleganger edition.”
“Tenecia and Willow killing it, I think Willow has got that ‘look’ I can give [Anthony Johnson] down pretty good,” Makokis said. “I absolutely love this ... I’m pretty sure they won the halloween costume party tonight, hands down.”
Johnson and Makokis have quite the story on how they became winners of the race show.
The Two-Spirit couple submitted their video as potential contenders for the show three minutes before the midnight deadline. They were on the last day of their holiday vacation in Costa Rica in December. Johnson, who is also a photographer, happened to take his camera just in case and taught himself how to edit video.
They woke up “super early in the morning” and filmed their video in a small restaurant located on a cliff in a coastal town of Costa Rica that overlooked the ocean. There was also “an old World War II plane or something in the restaurant,” said Makokis, Cree, over the phone from Alberta, Canada.
Johnson, Navajo, edited the video in the car on the way back to the country’s Capital.
Within a couple of days, they received a response from the show.
The theme chosen for the show, “New Beginnings,” coincidentally explained their own lives.
The Two-Spirit couple have been married for a year and a half, and bought a house together when they entered their video for the show. Johnson, who is from Kayenta, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation, was also finalizing his permanent residency for Canada.
Makokis said, “A lot of things kind of aligned with the theme of the show and like in the fashion of our life, which is doing things kind of by the seat of our pants, but both at the last minute.” CHECK QUOTE ENDING
The due competed against nine other teams, two per team, in the race. There are 10 legs in the entire race and each leg has a different number of challenges for the team (together or individually). Some legs could be shorter than others. The goal is to end up as one of the three top teams of which one will be crowned the Amazing Race Canada winners.
ICYMI: Go, Team Ahkameyimok!
The two completed many challenges that ranged from Makokis zip-lining over a mine and motor crossing to Johnson arranging flowers and tasting jelly.
However, a couple challenges tested the couple.
One physically challenging obstacle the couple endured was digging clams off the bay of Vancouver Island.
They thought it would take one to two hours, but it took them five.
“And in fact, we ended up being waist deep in the tide while we found our last one,” Johnson said. “Yeah it’s crazy because the whole ocean has come in by that point and there was like, literally no beach left over for us to dig.”
This challenge was historic due to three teams completely the clam challenge and not receiving penalties. Another team helped Johnson and Makokis in the clam challenge, too. Makokis said that really showed “coming together” and “powering through it and really speaks to the importance of friendship.”
“That’s a really important value for Indigenous people is the value of friendship and extending hospitality and helping one another when you really need it,” Makokis said.
These friendships on the show helped build allyship with others on the show, Johnson said.
“Each leg of the race presented an opportunity to share stories from our perspective, from an Indigenous perspective,” Johnson said.
An example would be the exact outfit they that the Indigenous youth replicated.
Johnson designed and made the two red skirts for Team Ahkameyimok to bring awareness to the missing and murdered Indigenous women and transgender people and culture. It was also inspired by Maria, an ultra marathon runner from northern Mexico. The skirts were also a homage to her.
Johnson also had to think of what challenges they still needed to complete while wearing a red skirt.
“I was like, but I also like need to jump, and zip line or whatever comes my way, like the skirt can't interfered. So it's a little short maybe,” Johnson said. “I hope our elders don't get mad at us.” He laughed.
Most importantly, the couple wanted to show their support and allyship for people who are gender diverse.
Makokis, who is a family physician and practices on transgender health, works with the Two-Spirit youth who have a high suicide rate.
In the pre-contact days, Two-Spirit individuals “were always valued.” They wanted to create a conversation and give it a national spotlight.
“Because at times it can be very homophobic and transphobic,” Makokis said.
One challenge that Makokis faced during the show was pretending to be the prime minister of Canada and read a speech in French.
“I never, I consciously made the decision to never learn French or speak French because I wanted to always prioritize my own language learning, which is the plains Cree language,” Makokis said.
His father, aunts, uncles, and grandparents went to residential schools in Canada, where they couldn’t speak their Indigenous language and forced to learn French. Hi
“And it affected me in that moment because I remembered this, my dad having to learn another language that wasn't his own, you know, being forced to do that as a young child and not having any say or autonomy,” Makokis said. “And if my grandparents didn't send them, they'd be sent to prison and jail and it prevented me from learning the topics because it was like a physical block in my memory to do that.”
Makokis said there was language in the speech that spoke to Canada respecting and valuing human rights, the rule of law, respecting territorial integrity and democracy, which made it “difficult” to read.
“And all of these things did not ring true for our people's experience in dealing with the newcomers and the treaties that we agreed to and all of the things that have happened to Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island,” Makokis said.
Of their entire experience, there’s one episode that stands out.
It was the couple’s two-year anniversary during one leg of the show. Makokis arranged a viewing party of approximately 500 at a local Catholic school in Alberta.
“We’re celebrating our anniversary on the 50-yard line in front of a bunch of football players,. It’s a crazy episode,” Johnson said. “We kiss on screen and then in that moment I like, pay attention to the giant cross on the wall. And I'm like, wow, a bunch of rural Albertans are celebrating the two-year anniversary of two gay Native guys kissing on screen, on national TV.”
Makokis added: “Screaming with happiness.”
Johnson thought it was science fiction. It wasn’t.
In conjunction with the show and their prize money, the couple is raising funds to build a cultural healing space in Kehewin, the First Nation community where they both work in and where the Indigenous youth are from. Learn more about their project at GoFundMe.