When a distance runner wins four medals at the small school state track championships, it doesn’t make much of a ripple.
When that runner is a young Native American girl who runs lap after lap in six races over three days with a red handprint painted across her mouth, it’s a different story.
Rosalie Fish was a senior at Muckleshoot Tribal School when the State 1B track and field meet in Cheney rolled around last Memorial Day weekend. She was just finding her voice as an advocate for the MMIW epidemic – Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women – after seeing Jordan Marie Daniel run the Boston Marathon with her face painted.
So Fish painted her face and ran, winning three events and placing second in a fourth, each run dedicated to a MMIW victim and drawing more attention.
The media, traditional and social, did the rest.
“I had no idea that any of what happened in the past year would happen,” Fish said recently of the attention she received after her story went viral. “I didn’t think I would really be impacting anybody other than the families I was running for and the people at that meet. To think that this influence, this activism has spread – I’ve even seen people in France doing podcasts about MMIW – I was and still am absolutely shocked.
“It gives me a lot of hope that people want to see Native women, and they want to see change with that as well.”
Fish is just finishing her freshman year at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge. She is now an All-American runner on a junior college national championship team, and, more important, a confident and well-spoken activist.
“I’ve kind of transitioned my journey from just advocating for this epidemic to now I’m trying to take the opportunities I can to reach bigger audiences, and also create conversations between important people who can actually make change and start wheels rolling,” she said.
Fish got a shout-out from the Minnesota attorney general, did a TED Talk in January, and often speaks about MMIW at events or conferences across the country. Fish is also working with Daniel and Vice Media on a project that would focus on missing and murdered indigenous women, as well as the people who advocate for them.
She’s done all of that while adapting to life as a student-athlete far from home.
“My freshman year as a college athlete was super exciting and super fulfilling, and I’m pretty sad it got cut short,” she said, adding that she especially enjoyed running with her multinational teammates.
The Tritons won a national championship in cross country, won a postseason cross country-style event run at a half-marathon distance and finished second at the indoor track championships. Fish was a consistent scorer in cross country, scored in the 13.1-mile race and placed in her three events – 1,000 meters, 5,000 meters and 4x800-meter relay – at the indoor finals. All without face paint.
“In order to continue my activism, because I couldn’t run with my face paint, I took my activism to a more educational platform,” she said. “(Running) is still a big part of who I am and how I raise awareness, (but) now I am moving on to another chapter that includes finding solutions and informing people of what they can do to help.”
Though MMIW is her conviction because murder is the third-leading cause of death among Native women – which is 10 times the national average – it’s not her only message.
“In the Native community, I’ll help create some brainstorming ideas on how other natives – and other kids in general – can use sports and other platforms to do what I did to raise awareness for their cause,” Fish said. “I will say to them that it can be a little bit overwhelming at times to know that at 18 years old I had my world completely flipped around, with no idea and no warning it was going to. It was absolutely worth it to see this positive change coming into place.”
Fish is appreciative of her teachers and coaches who allowed her to be a student, an athlete and an advocate. She’s home now, sheltering in place and going to bed at about 8 p.m. so she can get up for a 6 a.m. online class in Iowa.
“I want to run for as long as possible and take every single opportunity that I have to give to others, to continue to combat this epidemic, to continue to make progress, to never pause and to continually and persistently move forward,” she said of her future and personal dream of running at the Division I level. “In all honesty, if I can’t continue to run collegiately, I’m prepared to make any personal sacrifices needed to continue that push forward and get that change.
“To me, I can run forever, but that epidemic is now, it’s impacting Native families now. That is why it is my No. 1 priority, even above running.”