Indigenous People Make Up Less Than 1% of NCAA Athletes—This Is Why I’m Using My Platform To Change That

For me, running began as a coping mechanism. When I was 14, I suffered from severe depression, and running became the most sustainable method for me to deal with that. In the moments when I felt like I couldn’t be where I was and had nowhere to go, running gave me space to be myself and connect with my environmental roots.

Then, after joining the Muckleshoot Tribal School track team, I began to represent my community at larger meets. That's when I saw an opportunity to bring awareness to my tribe and start to defy commonly-held stereotypes about Native Americans and Native athletes. At first, running was about surviving, but it became a form of empowerment.

In the years since, I’ve used my running to bring awareness to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women crisis. This is something that impacts not only me as a victim and survivor of violence, but also my family and the women I love most deeply. Bringing running and activism together has allowed me to acknowledge who I am—as an athlete and as a person. Athletes are often encouraged to view ourselves as machines or tools meant to accomplish a team goal. But bringing activism into my running has allowed me to take a step back from that and ask people to acknowledge that while I am a runner and an athlete, I'm also Indigenous and a woman; those things are important parts of my identity.

When it came time for me to choose a university at the beginning of 2021, it was important for me to find a program where I knew I’d be supported. I spoke with a number of coaches, but it was through my conversations with University of Washington coach Marisa Powell that I decided that UW was the right school for me. I was very candid; I told her that it can sometimes be difficult to have me on a team.  I knew from experience that there would likely be officials, athletes, coaches, and spectators who would not be happy about the fact that my running is so closely tied to activism.

For example, when I was competing at the Junior College level, officials didn’t want to allow me to run with paint—which is one of the ways I raise awareness—and I had to push forward with my coach and ask for second opinions. I explained to Marisa that I needed to have a coach who would be willing to stand by me, support me, and defend me. She was up for the challenge. She shared my frustrations, and let me know that if there was any pushback that prevented me from running with paint, we would work together to change that.

Running at the collegiate level has given me my biggest platform yet to raise awareness, which is important because Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women—and Indigenous women in general—absolutely deserve that kind of awareness. This crisis has been happening for generations, and it’s now time to bring it to light. If running at the NCAA level will help me do that, then that’s my goal.

"One of my goals in life is to be the person I needed five or six years ago."

Native athletes make up less than 1 percent of NCAA participants. Being a part of this small population has helped me understand what my visibility means to Native youth who aspire to be in sports. In high school, I didn’t have very many Native athletes to look up to, so it was very disheartening to imagine myself in these collegiate spaces. Now, my being here isn't just about me or my individual community—it's about helping Native youth see themselves represented in college sports.

Because of this, I've partnered with Brooks Running and Camp4Collective to be a part of their "Who Is a Runner" initiative, which highlights a diverse array of runners and tells meaningful stories about the barriers they face and overcome in the sport. It's been an amazing opportunity to share my story and raise awareness toward the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women crisis. I’m honored and humbled by the talent and production of the film, as well as Brooks using its platform to address the erasure that Indigenous people face in the media.

One of my goals in life is to be the person I needed five or six years ago. When I was 14, I was convinced that I had no place in the world—that I didn’t deserve to be here, and I certainly didn’t deserve to succeed. Now, even when I get tired or feel a little bit insecure, I remember that there are Native women and people from other marginalized communities who haven’t yet found their own inspiration or built their confidence the way I've been able to. And it’s my dream to show them all that we are capable of absolutely anything.


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As told to Zoë Weiner

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Tags: Running

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