While roller derby is highly regarded as a feminist sport that empowers women and shatters gender norms, it’s still largely dominated by White and middle-class people. But at the 2018 Roller Derby World Cup in Manchester, United Kingdom, Native women and two-spirit people from all over the world reclaimed the space by competing as Team Indigenous

A new article in The New York Times published today (March 6) profiles the 20-person team that competed in the international tournament in early February. Each member representing Indigenous nations from the United States, Canada, South America, New Zealand and other parts of the world. 

Many racial and economic barriers keep White people in the majority in roller derby; skates, protective gear and membership fees can amount as high as $500, The Times reported. Melissa Waggoner, a Diné woman and roller derby professional who previously skated on Team U.S.A., told The Times that the idea for an all-Indigenous roller derby team was prompted when she began receiving Facebook messages and emails from people who urged her to start one. 

“When I talk about decolonizing roller derby, I talk about recognizing that opportunity and access exist in roller derby only for White privileged American and European people,” Waggoner said.

Last year, Waggoner started the team with April Fournier, who also has Diné heritage. Together, they recruited members and, for 11 months, shared coaching tips with the selected team members via video conference calls. The group’s mission statement, shared widely on Facebook, announced members’ intention to compete in the Roller Derby World Cup:

We are the First Nations and Indigenous people of our Ancestral Lands, linked globally through the sport of roller derby…. The mission and purpose of Team Indigenous is to unite the Indigenous roller derby community, representing the proud, once-borderless communities of our ancestral lands on these continents. Our ancestral homes are known by many names: Turtle Island, Abya Yala, Pachamama, Aotearoa and thousands more.

The 20 members of Team Indigenous met in person for the first time at the Roller Derby World Cup in Manchester, where they entered sporting flags from different nations and activist groups, including the Métis nation and the American Indian Movement. The group placed 27th out of 38 teams, and at the end of the tournament, Waggoner addressed a crowd filled with thousands of roller derby fans:

We skate to honor all those women who never found this strong, revolutionary sport, as their lives were cut short. We skate to bring more Indigenous women to this sport, to provide a space of solidarity, strength and love.

While Team Indigenous has empowered Native people in roller derby, it has also used its platform to address the treatment of indigenous communities, and, specifically, the disproportionate violence that many Native women face. According to The Times, their online following and merchandise sales are raising funds for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA, an organization dedicated to addressing the high murder rates and disappearances of Native women in North America.

You can view photographs and read the full profile on Team Indigenous here.