In the face of #MMIWG, Indigenous women fight back

On the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, girls and women box, march and continue searching for those lost.

  • In Browning, Montana, a town on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Browning High School students wear red skirts representing the movement for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women to school in October 2019.

  • Katie Runningwolf paints “MMIW” on Donna Kipp’s shoulder as they prepare for the Second Annual Ashley’s Walk in Browning, Montana, in June 2019. Red paint, handprints and ribbon skirts represent the movement for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

  • Donna Kipp paints “MMIW” on the neck of her younger sister Beatrice, while Katie Running Wolf braids her hair in preparation for the annual Ashley’s Walk to bring awareness to the MMIW movement. Native women go missing and are murdered at rates higher than any other race. Many are never found, and many of their cases have not been properly investigated.

  • Donna Kipp walks behind Kimberly Loring, Ashley Loring Heavy Runner’s sister, right, during the second annual Ashley’s Walk in Browning, Montana, on June 8, 2019. Kimberly organized the event to make sure her little sister was not forgotten.

  • In July 2019, during the North American Indian Days parade in Browning, a young woman holds a poster of Ashley Loring Heavy Runner, who disappeared in June 2018.

  • Serenity Young Running Crane, Beatrice Kipp and Rhoxy Larson (pictured from left) wait for instruction at the All Nations Boxing Club in Browning in March 2019. All three girls say they box because they enjoy the competitiveness and intensity of the sport. One of them wanted an outlet for her anger, another wanted a sport to share with her father, and one said her goal was to get stronger, just in case she got stolen.

  • Lee Looking Calf helps his daughter, Dustilee, 7, put on her boxing gloves at the Blackfeet Boxing Gym on Oct. 12, 2019. Lee said he wants his daughter to learn the sport not only for self-defense but to give her the confidence to become an unapologetically strong woman.

  • Frank Kipp weighs the female boxers at the All Nations Boxing Club in Browning in March 2019.

  • Ashley’s cousin, Lissa Loring, 34, left, and two other searchers look into a cave for traces of Ashley. Since Ashley has been missing for multiple season changes, family and friends look closer at the growth patterns of the area. They search for grass that looks younger than its surrounding and any area regrowth that looks like it may have been disturbed. The long and harsh winters make it difficult to search year-round so they have a small window to search the 1.5 million acre reservation before they have to put their searches on hold for the winter season.

  • Lissa Loring takes a moment to herself after finding bones during a search for her cousin, Ashley, in June 2019. A closer inspection revealed that the bones were from an animal, most likely a calf. Not only are the searches emotionally exhausting, they are physically challenging as well. The crew walks for miles across rugged landscapes filled with steep hills and drop-offs, holes, grizzly bears and rattlesnakes.

  • Family and friends of Ashley Loring Heavy Runner continue the search in a field with underground caves, after hearing a rumor that Ashley’s body might have been placed in a tight space. Since Ashley’s disappearance, her family follows every rumor and has conducted hundreds of searches on the Blackfeet Reservation’s vast 1.5 million acres.


Frank Kipp knows that teaching children to box is no more than a Band-Aid for the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (referenced on social media as #MMIWG), who are slain at 10 times the national average. However, options are limited when the justice system fails to protect the country’s most vulnerable populations.

Individuals are forced to defend themselves. For Kipp, that means using his boxing gym to teach young women, like his daughters, to fight. For the community, it means using every holiday, parade and event to not only celebrate but to also demand justice for their relatives.

The ghosts of the missing and murdered women refuse to be forgotten. They are silent guests at every function on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation — present in Kipp’s boxing gym, watching from the sidelines of celebrations, waiting in every parent’s darkest fears.

A group of teenage girls in colorful ribbon skirts — led by Kipp’s daughter, Donna — gathered in the cafeteria of Browning High School to talk about the crisis. They’re not quite adults, but they know the statistics that surround them.

Some girls box, some wear ribbon skirts, and some think nothing will happen to them. But whether they learn to fight or face the ghosts does not matter. What matters is why this crisis has gone largely unexamined by the justice system since this country’s inception. It is crucial that Indian Country does not accept teaching Indigenous children to fight as an answer to the epidemic. It is a Band-Aid, and Band-Aids cannot heal murder. 

Tailyr Irvine is a Salish and Kootenai journalist from Montana. Follow her @TailyrIrvine (Instagram and Twitter). Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.