Rosalie Fish is Running to End Violence Against Indigenous Women
THE 2020 PROJECT
When Rosalie Fish stepped onto the track for one of her final high-school meets, she felt a new sense of purpose. This time she wasn’t running for herself. Fish found herself on the winner’s podium four times over the weekend (three golds, one silver). But that’s not the only reason people took notice, or why newspapers came calling.
In each of her races, Fish ran with a red hand painted over her mouth. Scrawled on her leg in the same paint, “MMIW”: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
Photos of her spread on social media. The image of that red hand over the mouth of the young runner—meant to symbolize speaking for those who couldn’t be spoken for—was undeniably striking. But it wasn’t necessarily political. “A lot of indigenous people are born into political lives, not at our own choosing,” Fish says. “For me to say I don’t want indigenous women to be ignored anymore is, by some people, a political statement. Advocating for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, they will say that’s political. To me that’s survival.”
The grim stats demand it. Indigenous women are extremely vulnerable to violence—four out of five (83.4%) experience it in their lifetime. On some reservations, indigenous women are murdered at a rate 10 times the national average, according to the Department of Justice. It was reading stories about the topic—some hitting close to home in her native Washington state—that compelled Fish, herself of the Muckleshoot and Cowlitz tribes, to run on their behalf, so something might be done about this epidemic, and that they might be remembered.
“When I decided to dedicate races at my state championship meet to missing or murdered indigenous women in my community, I specifically chose women who, their disappearance affected me very heavily at that time,” Fish says. “I think a lot of families really just wanted justice at some point, and even if that justice just meant ‘Just know her name. Just know who she is and know what was taken from me.’”
Still, she didn’t quite know how to convey the message until she saw photos of Jordan Marie Brings Three White Horses Daniel of the Lakota Tribe competing in the Boston Marathon with the red hand painted over her mouth. Fish reached out to Daniel to ask if she could emulate her.
“So many indigenous women and relatives are taking that leadership and next step to be a voice and to organize and to act,” Daniel says of Fish. “I think Rosalie is just leading the way in terms of what we can do, what we are capable of doing. This new journey has connected Rosalie and I into a little family unit that gets it because we’re not only connected by running, but we’re connected by who we run for now.”
“She’s really been like a mentor and a big sister,” Fish says of Daniel. (The two meet in real life for the first time in this episode of Levi’s The 2020 Project.)
Since that fateful state meet, Fish has gone on to run for Iowa Central Community College’s stellar athletics program. She moved to the state on her own, and the culture shock has, at times, overwhelmed her. “It can be very isolating here, but then I’d remember I am pursuing a higher education so I can be an advocate,” she says. “I’m working toward something. I want to continue to use these bigger platforms and I want to get faster so I can get to these bigger meets and have even bigger audiences to reach through MMIW.”
No matter where Fish goes, she says, she’ll always work on behalf of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. She believes others can be allies as well, simply by sharing MMIW posters on social media or voting for politicians who advocate on behalf of women or who supported the Violence Against Women Reauthroization Act of 2019.
“Now that I’ve run for my people there’s no way that I could ever run for anything else,” Fish says. “I’m taking power back, breaking stereotypes, using my platform, and dedicating it to somebody else. I can use it to amplify the voices of people who have been silenced.”