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Young Boxer Raises Awareness About Missing Indigenous Women

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WAOW Television
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Ayanna O'Kimosh and her family often drive past a small grey building on Highway 55 in Keshena. A small yellow sign on the outside says: Menominee Indian Boxing Club.

Ayanna said she was always curious about the building, and asked to go inside.

He parents, Jerrit O'Kimosh and Michelle Bailey, kept pushing it off.

"I didn't want her to box because, you know, it's boxing! There's punching involved and I didn't want her to get hurt," Michelle said.

Eventually, they gave in.

"If we tell these girls they can do whatever they want in their lives, how can we stop her from pursuing boxing if that's what she wants to do," Jerrit said.

Three years later, at 12 years old, Ayanna has multiple titles, including 2019 USA Boxing National Champion and 2020 National Silver Gloves Champion.

"It's like an adrenaline rush, like I'm pumped," Ayanna said about the feeling she gets when she puts on her bright green gloves.

But her grit and success inside the ring aren't the only things that set her apart. Her fight outside the ring is most important.

"I'm fighting for MMIW which is the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women."

Ayanna is part of the Menominee, Oneida and Arikara Tribes.

Her cousin, Katelyn Kelley, went missing from the Menominee Reservation in June.

MMIW Crisis

MMIW is a crisis that goes back hundreds of years.

"It's generational. It's a huge issue back to colonization and boarding schools," Michelle said.

In 2016, the National Crime Information Center reported at least 5,712 missing and murdered Indigenous women. But many activists believe that data is incomplete.

Wisconsin has never kept track of these cases at a state level.

"When we do go missing and murdered, the response isn't equivalent to the rest of the population. There's no urgency," said Menikanaehkem Community Organizer Kristin Welch.

Organizations led by Native women, like Welch's, have been trying to keep their own counts within the state. Their grassroot efforts have also led to the creation of an MMIW Task Force within the the Wisconsin DOJ.

Welch said her organization, and others, are pressing that task force to create a count of MMIW in the state. Welch said the members of the task force will be announced in the next few weeks.

Continuing the Fight

While the task force does it's work, Ayanna continues hers by posting on her "Team Ayanna" Facebook page each time an Indigenous woman in the area goes missing.

"I'm trying to make sure my family, my future generations and myself are not a part of those statistics," Ayanna said.

She hopes she never has to use her fighting skills outside of the ring, but knows she can.

"It helps me know that I have a chance if anything ever happens to me," she said.

She's also planning on teaching self defense classes to help more women in her community feel confident, strong and secure.

And her parents couldn't be more proud of the way Ayanna is using her platform.

"To be growing your own little superhero that people look up to, that I look up to, I mean that's pretty exciting," Michelle said.