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Jarvis Googoo is a Mi’kmaw educator, public speaker, and non-practising lawyer. He’s addressed many audiences — Dalhousie’s law and medical schools, Girl Guides, and Scouts Canada — on topics such as Mi’kmaw history and culture, peace and friendship, and truth and reconciliation. In 2022, he received the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Medal for his work. As a runner, he’s competed in the Boston Marathon. Saltscapes spoke with Jarvis Googoo about God’s children, good sadness, and Skittles.  

Where did you grow up?

In the First Nations community of We’koqma’q on Cape Breton Island (Unama’kik). I was raised by many people in a large family of aunts and uncles. My primary caregiver was my grandmother, Emily Googoo. She was very Catholic. She took what was good about Christianity, love and acceptance of other people, of God’s children, as she would phrase it. Donald Marshal Jr. was my cousin.   

Did his story inspire you to study law?

The legal story of Junior was one of my inspirations for going to law school. His wrongful conviction wasn’t a surprise. It was something my grandmother and Junior’s mother always talked about. In law school, I learned to appreciate how the whole system failed Junior. I learned how the law is not applied fairly to Indigenous people and (about) the over-representation in prison populations of Indigenous offenders. We’re less likely to be granted bail and we’re sentenced to more severe punishments.   

Why have you chosen not to practice law? 

I don’t regret law school. It was some of the best years of my life but law school was also extremely challenging emotionally. In second year, my best friend, Clint Phillips, killed himself. He was only 24. His death started to depress me to the point where my grades suffered. I stopped exercising and went up to 260 pounds. I went into counselling. I’m happy that I passed second year but I barely did. Third year, I just wanted to graduate. My ambition took a severe hit.  

I’m sorry. That sounds like a horrible thing to go through. Tell me about him.

Clint was the descendant of Indian residential school and Indian day school survivors. He went to the same day school. He served with the United States Marine Corps in Afghanistan and Iraq. There was PTSD and substance abuse. My friend fell into the prime suicide statistics: Indigenous males, 15 to 24. 

How did you recover from your loss?

It started with exercise. When counselling finished, I started going to the gym, easing onto the treadmill and the stepper. I got involved in teaching group fitness. In 2015, a good friend said, why don’t you try racing? We’ll do one together. We signed up for the Bluenose 10K. Since then, I’ve been racing and running.

What race was the most important to you?

In October, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Clint’s memory and another Mi’kmaw Marine, Mark Sark, of Listuguj First Nation. I ran alone but I wasn’t lonely. I went into it with good sadness. I was remembering a lot of my life, thinking about how fortunate I was growing up with my best friend and how sad I was in law school, but at the same time remembering how happy I was that I beat depression. For the first time, I finished in under three hours, which had been a goal of mine.

 

Is it true you fuel for races with Skittles?

Skittles are a part of my carb loading. They’ve got a lot of sugar. I work with a registered dietitian who is a runner herself and she said that’s actually very smart.   

 


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