Nā Wahine Toa
After winning the belt in 2017 and arguably reaching the pinnacle of her career, Ilima-Lei felt as if something was missing. She couldn’t quite figure out what it was until she learned of the MMIW movement and the epidemic of violence against native women. It was then that—using her win bonus money—she created a scholarship program for native girls in partnership with non-profit, Native Like Water.
Seeing her success in the cage grow, she wanted to create the Ilimanator Scholarship to not only inspire other girls to go after their dreams, but to also help eliminate disparities that many young native girls face and give them a fighting chance to succeed. Through fundraising, donations and her win bonuses from fights, Ilima-Lei was able to award a total of 15 scholarships to young girls around the world including natives of Mexico, Jamaica, Panama, Hawai’i and Turtle Island. Many of her recipients had never left the islands or their reservations and were given a chance to attend cultural enrichment programs both nation-wide and internationally through the scholarship, including Ilima’s women’s retreat program in 2020.
Eventually, with guidance from her mentors, she created her own foundation, Nā Wahine Toa (Women Warriors), to further empower these kaikamāhine (girls) and older generations. Her foundation focuses on teaching self-defense, self-love, self-preservation and the protection of sacred sites including our bodies, our divine feminine entities and our ʻāina (land).
Survival is real for our native women and girls and Ilima-Lei aims to give these wahine the tools to fight back and the confidence to find their inner wahine toa. While she has worked closely with native women in Hawai’i and San Diego, in the future Ilima hopes to travel cross country to give self-defense seminars to more at-risk populations.