Rosalie Fish Steps Up Her Advocacy for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

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This article originally appeared on Womens Running

When Rosalie Fish was running as a high school senior in 2019, she drew attention for competing with red paint in the shape of a handprint over her mouth and "MMIW" on her leg as she ran for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People (MMIW/MMIWP). She had seen Jordan Marie Whetstone run with the same red handprint and MMIW and asked if she could follow her lead.

The MMIWP crisis has affected Fish personally. She is a survivor of violence and has run for specific women in her community who were murdered or missing.

Indigenous people face disproportionately high rates of murder, rape, and violent crime. A 2016/2017 CDC report reports that 27 percent of U.S. women have been raped in their lifetimes. Among American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) women, that number is 43 percent. In 2019, homicide was the seventh leading cause of death for AI/AN girls and women (ages 1-54) and the fifth leading cause of death for boys and men.

Rosalie Fish
Rosalie Fish and her University of Washington teammates at the Pac-12 Cross-Country Championships on October 27, 2023 (Photo: Red Box Photography )

Running for Justice

Fish is a member of the Cowlitz tribe and attended the Muckleshoot Tribal High School on the Muckleshoot Reservation. Running with paint was "my first big leap into athletic activism," says Fish, a 22-year-old senior on the University of Washington cross-country team. "Over time, I've been able to develop and adjust the way that I advocate for Indigenous people through my platform as an athlete."

After dealing with a few injuries, Fish was happy to be healthy enough to compete for the Huskies this fall. She concluded her cross-country season as part of the Pac-12 Conference championship team and placed 48th out of 106 runners in the conference meet, covering the 6K course at Chambers Creek Regional Park near Tacoma in 20:45.7. She will continue to compete for the Huskies during the upcoming indoor and outdoor track seasons.

Outside of running, Fish has been recognized for the impact she's made as an advocate. This fall, she accepted the Women's Sports Foundation's Wilma Rudolph Courage Award.

Rosalie Fish accepts the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award
Rosalie Fish accepts the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award from the Women's Sports Foundation. (Photo: Getty Images for the Women's Sports Foundation)

From Athlete to Advocate

After transferring to the University of Washington from Iowa Central Community College, Fish says, "I put a lot of pressure on myself, like if I wasn't able to run competitively, it would mean that I was letting my community down as far as advocacy goes." But then, she says, "Experiencing injuries when I did pushed me in a way that I was actually able to explore: How can I continue to advocate for my community in the ways that I'm physically not allowed to right now?"

Fish steered her advocacy into direct service. She is finishing up her bachelor's degree in social work and, as her practicum, is working as a MMIWP family advocate intern with Mother Nation, a social services nonprofit for Native women. She plans to return after she graduates. Her goal is to "create connections with the people that I'm hoping to represent and to get them the mics and the platforms to share their stories."

She also worked as an intern at the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Fish supported the creation of Washington State Patrol's Missing Indigenous Person Alert, which launched last year. People can sign up for alerts, similar to AMBER alerts.

Fish has been speaking publicly, including leading TED talks and visiting high schools and middle schools, particularly in areas with significant Native populations. "Normally, I go there just to connect with youth in general, especially those who might relate to any mental health issues that they've faced, being young students of color," she says. She also talks about the complexities of gender-based violence for students of color. "I understand just how debilitating these societal issues are on youth self-image, and I try to connect with that shared experience in a way that can be empowering for them," she says.

Like many survivors of violence, Fish has post-traumatic stress disorder. "Trying to navigate that as an athlete, as a student, and especially as an activist and advocate has a huge impact on my life," she says.

Fish continues to run with paint on her face and body, but not every time she competes, because she wants to make sure it's meaningful when she does. When she ran 12 miles as part of Miles Against Violence at the Downtown Yakima Mile, she ran with paint, and raised about $36,000 for the YWCA Yakima and survivors of domestic violence.

Access and Inclusion

As a Brooks Run Happy Advocate, Fish visits high schools across the state of Washington, especially tribal schools, spending time with track teams and giving each runner a free pair of running shoes.

"Running shoes are very inaccessible, especially in low-income communities of color, who are not able to spend $200 on a pair of high-quality shoes," Fish says. "Being able to engage with Native youth in that way and give them the opportunity or the tools they need to give running a shot--it's really rewarding."

Fish wants to make running more accessible and inclusive, particularly for Indigenous and LGBTQ people. "Unfortunately, I always felt like I was alone as a Native runner, let alone a queer native runner," she says. She hopes that "being unapologetically Indigenous and queer in everything that I do can send the message that not only do queer women of color belong in these spaces, but we deserve to be there, and we're needed there because we bring so much to the table."

Courage and Leadership

The news that she'd been chosen for the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award came as a surprise to Fish.

"I was very humbled and very flattered," she says, adding that she has admired the Women's Sports Foundation's community service.

The award recognizes “someone who exhibits extraordinary courage in their athletic performance, demonstrates the ability to overcome adversity, makes significant contributions to sports, and serves as a role model.” Fish plans to pursue a master's degree in social work.

"What makes Rosalie deserving of one of WSF's highest honors is her persistence, resilience and bold determination to get society to pay attention to a crisis often cast to the shadows--the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women epidemic--as well as her desire to be a face of change for a safer, more just world," says Women's Sports Foundation CEO Danette Leighton. "Rosalie is an inspiration on the track, the classroom and beyond, and WSF is proud to support her and the remarkable work she is doing."

In 2022, Fish was one of 58 college students nationwide named a Truman Scholar for her leadership, public service, and academic achievement. She was the first UW student-athlete to receive that scholarship.

Fish also gets recognized on a smaller scale. When she originally signed with Iowa Central Community College, she became the first student from her high school to sign a letter of intent for college athletics. Recently, while attending her brother's high school football game, she says, "One of the middle schoolers came up to me and asked me if I was Rosalie Fish. And I said, 'Yes I am.' And she said, 'You're my idol.' It was just that moment where I realized I could be doing something as simple as cheering on my brother at a football game--which is not a moment where I feel like I'm being a leader--but girls like her remind me that every single step and every action that I take matters, because whether I can see it or not, I am leading."

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