The 2021 Boston Marathon was held on Indigenous Peoples Day, a change made in light of its cancellation one year earlier because of the pandemic. The race is usually held in the spring, so the move to that specific day didn’t sit well with those who felt the marathon would overshadow the importance of the holiday.
Therefore, in an apologetic gesture, the Boston Athletic Association will honor Ellison “Tarzan” Brown, the marathon’s 1936 and 1939 winner. Brown belonged to Rhode Island’s Narragansett tribe and was also known by the name “Deerfoot” among his tribe; the race’s toughest section, Heartbreak Hill, will be named after him.
The BAA made a statement offering “sincere apologies to all Indigenous people who have felt unheard or feared the importance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day would be erased.”
Brown was intentionally killed in 1975, at 61 years old. He was the victim of a hit-and-run after an argument in the parking lot of a Rhode Island bar.
Anna Brown-Jackson, one of Deerfoot’s granddaughters, spoke about her ancestor’s impact on the sport and as well as her culture. “Running and winning the Boston Marathon was something Grandpa loved,” she said according to ESPN.
“Being an Indigenous person meant everything to Grandpa because he was very competitive to begin with… If someone told him he couldn’t do something, whether it was winning the marathon or crossing through a path of land to gather shellfish for his family, he’d make sure to prove them wrong and do it.”
During a 2016 sit-down with StoryCorps, interviewer Loren Spears (also of Narragansett heritage) shared with Brown-Jackson Deerfoot’s importance to her as well. “[People like your grandfather] put us on the map, made us visible in a time when we were being written out of the history books at a time when we were being discredited as not being indigenous, Indian, whatever term people want to call us Native American,” Spears said. “And here your grandfather was, putting us not on just a local stage, but on a regional, national, and international stage.”