The saying is common on reservations across America: A Native American woman who disappears goes missing twice; first, when her body vanishes. Then, when her story does.
According to the United States Justice Department, Native American women are ten times more likely to be murdered than non-native women. More than one in three has suffered rape, or attempted rape, and more than 80 percent will experience violence at some point in their lives.
On the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, these are not statistics. They are stories, of lives and families, of loss and pain. The numbers describe a crisis, but its dimensions are intimate and individual.
Frank Kipp, who was born and raised on the Blackfeet Reservation, and worked as a probation officer there, witnessed the damage to its women and girls firsthand. It scarred him, and his people. He decided to fight back, in the way he most understood. In 2003, Kipp—a former welterweight who won 38 bouts as an amateur—opened the Blackfeet Boxing Club. The gym has trained more than 500 boxers on the reservation, but for Frank, over time, its most important fighters were the young women and girls, including his daughter Donna, who came in search of more than a heavy bag. They sought a way to protect themselves, and preserve their hopes.
Blackfeet Boxing tells the story of one girl who never made it to the gym, Ashley Loring Heavyrunner. Her family still searches for her across the vast sweep of the reservation where she disappeared in June 2017, as her sister Kimberly fights for recognition and justice in the face of collective indifference from tribal and federal law enforcement and state and national government.
Ashley’s vanishing is context, and cause, for the girls at the Boxing Club—and the film tracks two promising fighters in their time at the gym. Donna Kipp, Frank’s daughter, is determined to qualify for the Junior Olympics, but faces challenges beyond her opponents in the ring, testing her resolve, and deepening her motivation, to prevail.
Mamie Kennedy is among the youngest and most ferocious fighters Frank has ever seen in his 18 years as a trainer. But Mamie’s greatest fight is symbolic of so many other girls on the reservation—as she struggles with deep family dysfunction, the temptation of drinking and drugs, and her own uncertainty as a boxer.
Blackfeet Boxing is a film about fighting—for respect, identity and acknowledgment. There are no scorecards or knockouts on the reservation. The prize at the Blackfeet Boxing Club is far more vital: survival.