Kali Reis’s role as Evangeline Navarro in True Detective: Night Country is her biggest so far. It has the potential to turn the former world champion boxer into a leading Hollywood star. Reis, a natural in front of the camera, had a memorable acting debut in Catch the Fair One: she earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Female Lead for her performance. 

Kali Reis is of Native American and Cape Verdean ancestry

Kali Reis was born on 24th August 1986 to a Cape Verdean father and a Native American mother in Providence, Rhode Island. She hails from the Seaconke Wampanoag, Nipmuc, and Cherokee Indigenous people. Following her parents’ divorce, Reis grew up immersed in Native American culture. 

“My mom raised me as a single parent and we attended, as well as competed, Native ‘powwows’ regularly,” Reis told WBAN. A powwow is a get-together of Native American communities in which they sing, dance, and honor their ancestors’ traditions. Reis revealed that she struggled with her biracial identity as a young girl. She said that she was ‘never Native enough and never black enough’.

“Natives have this idea of hair being poker-straight, so then I’d have my mum straightening it out before Powwow competitions, just to make sure that nobody made fun of me and called me the ‘black girl’,” Reis told Boxing Social. “I got comfortable being uncomfortable at a young age. I had to turn inward to myself; I didn’t have anybody I could talk to or trust when I was going through my own struggles.”

Through trial and error and boxing, Reis grew comfortable with her unique identity. She incorporated her native name, Mequinonoag, meaning ‘Many Talents, into her boxing name, KO Mequinonoag. She also used her platform to advocate for the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) movement. She told Boxing Social:

“It’s been an epidemic that’s plagued Native women since the colonizers first stepped foot on our island. They viewed Native women as being vulnerable and non-educated, or promiscuous. These perpetrators find it easy – because it is – to come onto Native land and commit these crimes without getting charged for it. That’s because of a lack of resources, a lack of protection, a lack of a lot of things.”