A new season of The Amazing Race Canada began last week. For the first time in the show’s eight-season history, Inuvialuit are represented by two siblings among 10 teams racing for gold.
Jesse and Marika Cockney grew up in Canmore, Alberta, but were born in Yellowknife and have roots in Tuktoyaktuk.
This spring, they put their lives on hold for a month to fulfill a dream they had both had since they were kids – compete in Canada’s Amazing Race reality game show and represent their Inuit culture on a national stage.
“We both jumped on the opportunity because we thought it would just be a great experience,” Marika said.
The show follows teams as they race across the country completing physical and mental challenges. Teams are gradually eliminated as the race progresses.
The first team to arrive at the finish line will win $250,000, a trip around the world, and a pickup truck for each team member.
“There was no way to prepare for what we would come across in the race,” Jesse said.
So far on the show, the Cockney team has climbed to the top of a Ferris wheel in Montreal, followed goats around a pen, and harvested vegetables.
“It’s random things that you had never imagined yourself doing, and you’re there doing it with cameras,” Jesse said. “It’s pretty crazy.”
Jesse said off-screen challenges while completing the race were greater than those on-screen.
“One of the biggest emotional challenges is being disconnected from other friends and family for this period,” he explained.
“On certain days, if we weren’t racing, it was definitely tough to keep the motivation going.”
The siblings could not communicate with anybody not involved in the production during shooting of the show. They came to rely on each other.
“We’re closer after the experience, because it was such a hard experience to go through and we needed each other,” Jesse said.
They credit their mother, who raised them as a single parent, for having taught them persistence, ingenuity, and the willpower to work through challenging times.
“Family means literally everything to us,” Marika said. “They’ve definitely inspired us in so many ways.”
Surrounded by Inuit art
Jesse and Marika’s father, Angus Cockney, was born in Tuk.
He made a name for himself as a sculptor and became widely known for his traditional carvings.
He was also the first Inuk to ski to the North Pole.
Jesse said while he and Marika missed growing up on the land where they were born, he felt lucky they got to remain connected to the culture through their father’s art.
“We’d have these amazing sculptures of art in our house as kids, just kind of rolling around on the ground,” Jesse remembered, describing carved polar bears, dancing walruses, and snowbirds.
“He takes what I think are traditional themes and puts his own spin on a lot of the representations,” Jesse said, explaining his father’s unique approach.
The siblings still have many family members in Tuk. It has been several years since they visited, but they keep in touch.
“They’ve said that they’ve been following and sharing our clips along the way,” Marika said.
Their cousin, Richard Cockney, is one of those followers.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said, excited to be watching his own family on national television.
While he missed the first episode of the show – he was away on medical travel – his whole family planned to watch the second episode that aired on Tuesday night.
“Jesse was an Olympian before. I think he’ll do well for sure, and I think Marika will be right behind him,” Richard said. “I’m hoping they’ll do good.”
This is not the first time either sibling has reached the spotlight.
Jesse is an Olympic cross-country skier, with plans to go into sports management to increase access to high-performance opportunities.
“If a kid wants to make it from Tuk to the NHL, what’s the path?” Jesse asked.
“It’s not a matter of lack of skill. It’s really about opportunities and creating that vision for how you get from point A to point B.”
Marika is an actor, a hoop dancer, and an influencer.
She is also starting production of a documentary that will engage Elders and community leaders across the country about how they think the path to reconciliation should evolve.
“I think it’s important for the Indigenous community and the Inuit community to have role models to look up to in the mainstream media,” Marika said.
“If there’s a group of people that have really shown they can thrive in Canadian challenges, it’s Indigenous people across the country,” Jesse added.
Both siblings are proud to be continuing that legacy.