Earlier this summer, ESPN dominated quarantine viewing with The Last Dance, a docuseries about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Their next big sports documentary is about an all-women boxing club…on a Native American reservation. Blackfeet Boxing: Not Invisible tells the story of the Blackfeet Boxing Club, founded by Frank Kipp, to teach young women of the Blackfeet Nation boxing and self-defense. As in Canada, there is an epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the United States, with some areas reporting that Native women are more than ten times likely to be murdered than in other parts of the US. Formal fight training, whether it’s boxing or a form of martial arts, is a great way to build confidence and self-esteem in anyone, but it is critically important to teach these skills to Native women and girls. For them, it might literally become life or death knowledge.
Maybe it’s just an illusion—I remember my own self-defense instructor saying, “None of this will matter if someone actually attacks you. If that happens, just go for their eyes.”—but in the face of staggering disenfranchisement and mind-numbing numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women, at least it’s a proactive illusion. At least with this boxing club, there is an outlet for the anger and frustration that often plagues Native youth—as Frank Kipp himself says, the punching bag is the rez “psychologist”—and a place to build personal strength and community. I hope this documentary draws attention to the urgent need for resources to combat violence against women on tribal lands, but I also hope it debunks the most common portrayal of reservations in American media as places of extreme poverty. “The rez” is not a monolith. Native communities are resilient and unique, and I hope to see a slice of that life, too.