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Sandra Hale Schulman
Special to ICT

In August, Jayli Fimbres was gliding down the runway at the Lauren Good Day fashion show in Santa Fe wearing a brightly patterned dress alongside some of the top models and actors in Indian Country.

A day later she was featured on the Vogue magazine website.

Nearly a month later, she entered a different kind of spotlight in the boxing ring for her debut fight at the Four Bears Casino and Lodge in New Town, North Dakota.

“I’ll be making my professional boxing debut,” Fimbres, of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, told ICT before the fight. “It’ll be a debut on MHA nation soil, the place I call home. This is a dream that has come to fruition. I’ve envisioned this day countless times and I’m eager to see my vision become a reality.”

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She had almost given up on boxing, deciding her future would be in teaching language and culture while doing some modeling on the side for a friend.

“I thought I was done for good, honestly,” she said. “I took about nine years off. The last time I boxed was in 2013.”

Speaking her language

Active in sports since she was young, Fimbres was drawn to martial arts and then boxing in high school.

“I started boxing at 16 and I was really active in a lot of other sports throughout high school,” she told ICT. “I was running cross country and playing basketball, and I've always wanted to do martial arts, and the closest I could get to it was boxing. I boxed on and off for six years, but I didn't have a lot of time to fully commit to it.”

Jayli Fimbres, of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, has been boxing since high school but also does modeling and teaches language classes. She was featured modeling Lauren Good Day fashion designs at the Santa Fe Indian Market on Aug. 22, 2022, and debuting with her first professional boxing fight on Sept. 17, 2022. (Photo by Tru Hale, courtesy of Jayli Fimbres)

She found other options, however, and is now teaching weekly Hidatsa  language classes at the MHA Culture and Language Department in New Town.

“I went to school and now I'm working as a language apprentice within a culture and language department program here with the tribe,” she said. “And my goal is to become a language teacher to help revitalize our language and bring it back.”

But boxing was still in her blood.

“I wanted to take time to establish that and get a good foundation of the language and spend as much time as I could with elders,” she said. “I'm in a good place now where I can balance out my boxing career and I didn't want to have any regrets.”

She was drawn to boxing after attending a state tournament that featured girls boxing.

“I thought I could give this a try, so I did,” she said. “And the coach that I was under at the time was really old school. With three days of practice, he said, ‘I think you're a natural. I think you're ready for a fight.’”

She didn’t win her first fight, but that made her even more determined to pursue the sport. Getting full training, however, was difficult, as there was no boxing gym or training facility near her.

“It was hard traveling an hour away from my gym every day, working out four hours and trying to go to school and to work,” she said. “But when I stopped for years, I had so many regrets. There was nothing that could fill the void and I feel like I still have some type of a purpose with boxing. I want to coach one day and have my own gym. I want to have an immersion gym where I can get kids speaking their Native language in the gym. They only get 15 minutes at school now.”

In the beginning, Fimbres said, she was “all heart, just all try basically.” She picked up the technical side of boxing as she developed as a fighter.

“I still feel like there's quite a bit for me to learn, then I can bring that back to my community,” she said.

So what draws her to boxing, typically a male sport that can be violent?

“I grew up really competitive,” she said, “and I loved how when people fight, there's a different type of fire in their eyes. My dad had a punching bag and I would go shoot the bag. There was nothing like it, and there was nothing that I could do that would fill the void after I started boxing. It's my favorite sport.”

She said she’s not worried about getting her face messed up with a punch.

“I took an elbow to the nose a couple years ago and my nose was on the other side of my face,” she said. “Basketball has actually been harder on me than any other sport.”

High fashion

Her move into modeling was a bit less purposeful.

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She ventured into the fashion world to help a friend – artist and designer Lauren Good Day, a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation who is also Blackfeet and Plains Cree.

Good Day’s art work has been shown at some of the top Indigenous juried shows in the nation, including the Santa Fe Indian Market, the Heard Guild Museum in Phoenix and the Northern Plains Indian Art Show in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

She's also a designer, putting her art work onto clothing such as leggings and jackets.

Jayli Fimbres, of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, models fashions by Indigenous designer Lauren Good Day. Fimbres also wore Good Day's designs at the Santa Fe Indian Market on Aug. 22, 2022, and debuted with her first professional boxing fight on Sept. 17, 2022. (Photo by Tru Hale, courtesy of Lauren Good Day)

Fimbres agreed to help Good Day out years ago, acting as an assistant, working on the set-up crew, handling lighting and also modeling. On Aug. 22, she appeared wearing Good Day’s designs at the Santa Fe Indian Market.

And that’s where Vogue stepped in, doing a story on the “stylish scenes” from the Santa Fe market, with Fimbres featured in the top photo. The story mentions Good Day’s “playful prints” that were also modeled by Quanah Chasinghorse and actor D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai of “Reservation Dogs.”

Fimbres said she does her best to support Indigenous people.

“I'm not a real model,” she said. “Years ago, Lauren Good Day asked me if I wanted to help and I said, ‘I’ll do anything for you, I'll support you.’”

And being featured in Vogue, the top fashion magazine in the world?

“Yeah, that was insane to me as well,” she said. “It's always so fun and so surreal. Like just being around all these really well-known people in Indian Country, and everyone is just so beautiful.

“I always tell Lauren, ‘Thank you for just bringing me along in your journey, because this is crazy and I'm so grateful,’” she said.

Good Day has a different view of Fimbres’ talents.

“Jayli is determined, tenacious and dedicated to all that she does and loves,” Lauren Good Day told ICT.

“Seeing her flourish in every one of her passions from boxing, language and community is inspiring,” she said. “She holds beauty to the eye and importantly, in that of the heart … Jayli has been a principal model for my fashion art and for all she is, a true role model. I know she will continue to strive for her goals, train and accomplish much more in her future.”

Looking ahead

Fimbres was optimistic as she looked ahead to her first professional fight with boxer Nicole Benner in September.

“I'm feeling really good about it,” she said. “I've literally envisioned this day since I was 16, and I never thought I'd get the opportunity. So just crawling between those ropes is gonna be my win, because I was so afraid for so long that I wasn't worthy of my dreams. I put a lot aside and I really dug deep and I overcame a lot mentally to be there. I feel ready and I feel excited to be fulfilling this dream that I've had for so long.”

As for preparation for the big bout she said, “I just show up every day and just be consistent. It's just consistency over motivation and discipline. I'm just having all the faith in my training and the work is done already.”

It didn’t turn out as she might have hoped. Benner defeated her, but she is planning more bouts in the near future.

“I just want to thank everyone for all the love and support that they’ve shown me for this pro debut,” she posted on Facebook. “It was a tough loss but I felt the love. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.”

She’s also keeping her eye on the fashion world as part of the Lauren Good Day modeling team with the LGD Agency.

“We’re actually doing a shoot right now,” she said.

But she’s not ready to give up on boxing.

“I can't put into words what boxing is for me,” she said. “It's a really spiritual experience. I'm still trying to grasp it myself …. This is what I wanted for so long.”

*Correction: Jayli Fimbres teaches Hidatsa language classes. The specific class she teaches was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.

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