Reprinted from the Bonnyville Nouvelle
By Meagan MacEachern
It was about more than just being crowned the winners of season seven of The Amazing Race Canada. For Team Ahkameyimok, it was about bringing the country together.
As the first indigenous two-spirited couple to ever appear on The Amazing Race Canada, James Makokis and Anthony Johnson wanted more than just first place to come out of their role on the show.
“We’ve had the opportunity over the past couple of days, and all throughout the season, to bring awareness to the issue of indigenous health and indigenous health disparity, but most importantly, how different people from across the nation can work together to help address those (issues) in a very real and tangible way, which is helping Kehewin Health Services raise $250,000, and in doing so, being a part of Team Ahkameyimok and what we stand for,” detailed Makokis.
Throughout the season, the couple have been raising money for a healing centre in Kehewin Cree Nation, while breaking down barriers that stand in the way for the LGBTQ2+ community. Through the sale of Team Ahkameyimok t-shirts, and a gofundme page, they have raised $30,000 for the healing centre.
For Johnson, their participation in the show that had them competing across Canada provided them the perfect platform to share their story and an important message.
“One of the things I love about The Amazing Race Canada is that the viewers of this show are open to seeing something new, participating in something new, and I think a lot of the viewers have open hearts. Any time there’s an open heart or somebody open to receiving a message, I love to share even my experience. Having that exposure, those ears, eyes, and hearts available to hear something different has been an incredible privilege.”
The pair work in Kehewin; Makokis as a doctor and Johnson as a project coordinator with Kehewin Health Services.
Although they currently reside in Edmonton, Johnson was originally from Navajo Nation in Arizona U.S., while Makokis was raised in Saddle Lake Cree Nation.
When asked how it felt to step onto the winning platform after the last leg of their journey, both Makokis and Johnson described it as “surreal.”
“I’m really excited that we get to share this win with everyone who has watched this show, especially with the people of Bonnyville. We hosted a party at the C2 and there were lots of folks there, to remember them and to have them be a part of this experience for us means the world,” Johnson said.
Makokis added, they were overwhelmed by the support they received from across the Lakeland, which was made clear when hundreds attended their viewing parties hosted throughout the course of the show.
“One of the things about The Amazing Race is the show says it brings Canada together, and we literally wanted to bring people together. James actually had the idea for the viewing parties and we went along with it. It was really fun to see people out and cheering. Any time we can bring families together, that’s something we really enjoy doing,” described Johnson.
Makokis admitted when they first started talking about hosting these events they weren’t sure if people would come.
“Sure enough, people came out by the hundreds and it felt so good to have that energy in the room together,” Makokis expressed.
Competing on The Amazing Race Canada had always seemed like a far-off dream to Makokis and Johnson, and even after celebrating their big win, they’re still left wondering if it was real.
“Both Anthony and I, when The Amazing Race original series came out, both of us were like ‘wow, what an incredible opportunity it would be to be on that,’ and the question is who are you going to do it with? Being able to be Anthony’s husband and marry him two years ago and having this opportunity come to us to apply, and then win on top of that, is just, we’re still trying to comprehend it,” exclaimed Makokis.
Johnson added, “I think a good comparison would be that there isn’t one thing that makes this experience special and if you think about a painting, the difference between a red painting and a Monet, is there are many colours. For us, this experience is like a beautiful work of art that we get to be with, enjoy, experience, and see something new each time you revisit it.”
Throughout their journey, there were highs and lows as they went head-to-head against nine other teams.
For Makokis, one of the peak moments was celebrating their second wedding anniversary on national television.
Makokis said, “I think when you’re married, you’re always trying to come up with different ways of celebrating your anniversary. To be able to first of all get married and have that as a national platform at the Vancouver International Marathon, and then secondly, have your second anniversary on national television with Anthony giving me this amazing Tiffany bracelet… with football players cheering in the background for us, I think was one of the most fun and memorable experiences of our lives.”
Although this wasn’t featured on the show, Makokis described being adopted into the Kehewin Cree Nation during their annual pow wow event.
“For that to happen, to have a two-spirit married couple in front of an entire nation says how progressive the people of Kehewin are and also says how progressive in terms of the fact that they’re working to decolonize some of those beliefs about gender and bring back our original teachings where everyone in our circle has a space and is welcome.”
While for Makokis it was a physical moment that stood out during the show, Johnson felt bringing people together was a shining moment.
“I think for me, watching the show with fans was really special, especially in Bonnyville, Cold Lake, and St. Paul’s because there were hugs, high-fives, and well wishes, signs, posters, and people smiling. It was awesome that we got to create a fun night for people, and hopefully they got something from that that will last them beyond the duration of this experience.”
When it came to the toughest challenge they faced, both agreed it was scrounging for butter clams on the beaches of Vancouver Island.
It was just when they were ready to give up that they pulled through and found success.
“I was ready to have my Forest Gump moment and just jump in the water and backstroke into the sunset,” laughed Johnson.
Pulling off a win wasn’t easy.
Makokis said for Team Ahkameyimok it was all about thinking ahead.
“It definitely took a lot of strategy, thinking, and working together. Strategy in a sense where we knew we didn’t have to come out winning every single leg of the race, all that needed to happen was not get eliminated, which means we could come in the middle or even near the end, but most importantly, when we got to the finale, we had to come in first,” Makokis described. “Because of that, we had a chance to learn about the other racers, what their strengths and weaknesses were, which wasn’t the case for those at the front of the pack a lot of the time, no matter how many legs of the race they won.”
The leg of the race that made the biggest impact, Johnson said, was their time in Saskatoon.
“That was a game changer because that was our first taste of victory, it was our first time being consistently at the front of the pack, and it did two things. One was that it gave us the taste of winning, which felt good, but it also showed us that being out in front is the most important part of winning a leg, and that ended up bringing us success in the final leg, which won us the whole race.”
The pair don’t have any plans when it comes to how they will spend their $250,000 winnings. In addition to the cash, the couple also won a trip for two around the world and two brand new vehicles.
“At this point, we talked to some folks… and we got a little advice, we’re going to wait it out a little bit, be smart, who knows what the future holds and our primary concern right now is getting plenty of sleep and rest,” Johnson noted.
Even though the cameras have been packed up and their time on The Amazing Race Canada is over, Johnson and Makokis are still doing everything they can to fundraise for a healing centre in Kehewin.
“The dream is that the centre will not only be a place to bring the people of Kehewin together, but that it would be a place for us to receive guests from Bonnyville, St. Paul, and the surrounding communities to have relationships, peace, and be together in a new way,” said Makokis, adding anyone looking for more information or interested in donating can do so at gofundme.com/restoreharmony.
“That’s definitely the spot where people can number one, see the documentary we put together explaining the need for this healing space in Kehewin, and number two, interact and engage with us through a financial contribution or even through messages about opportunities to move forward together,” Makokis added.
Team Ahkameyimok wanted to thank those that supported them through this journey.
Johnson said, “Thank you so much to everyone for tuning in… It’s been such a pleasure to share this experience with you and I’ve said it before and I will say it again, as the nation as a whole moves forward into the era of reconciliation I think what happened in Bonnyville, Cold Lake, and St. Paul during these viewing parties is the solution to bringing settlers and indigenous people together in the spirit of peace and friendship that the original treaties were drafted to construct. We need to find more opportunities to be together in the same spaces as friends in peace moving together in perpetuity.”