Ilima-Lei Macfarlane thought she’d be a social studies teacher or working for a non-profit organization at this stage in her life.
A cultural anthropology major at San Diego State University, Macfarlane has always wanted to teach and mentor. She also has a Master’s degree in liberal arts and science with a focus on indigenous issues.
Life hasn’t quite gone in that direction for Macfarlane — and she’s more than content with that. The Hawaiian is now a professional mixed martial artist and the Bellator women’s flyweight champion.
“I consider fighting my career now,” Macfarlane said. “But I can still work with non-profits, I can still have that educator side that I always wanted through programs like I’m working with right now.”
MMA might have been a happy detour for Macfarlane. Now, though, she’s bringing her expertise and philanthropy in the fold.
Last week, Macfarlane announced The Ilimanator Inaugural Scholarship for native girls, in conjunction with the Native Like Water InterTribal Youth Program. She’s putting up $2,000 of her own money to get the campaign rolling and is hoping others donate.
HERE IS MY BIG NEWS EVERYONE!!! But first a little backstory, cause you all I know I love to explain my life lol ❤️———————————————————————— Last summer I was in Panama with @intertribalyouth when I got the call from @bellatormma that I would be fighting for the belt. After I got off the phone I turned to my mentor and ITY program director, Marc Chavez, and said that if I won I would use a portion of my winnings to create a scholarship fund for native youth. A few months later, I won the belt. It was without a doubt that the stars had aligned for me to not only find ITY, but to find my purpose in this world. ———————————————————————— Indigenous issues has always been something that I’ve held close to my heart, and I am so fortunate to have a platform such as MMA to work with these communities. My mission with this scholarship is to provide young native girls a fighting chance to not only succeed, but to LIVE. Statistically, indigenous women and girls face the highest rates of violence and have some of the highest numbers of missing and murdered peoples. I want to give young native girls hope that there is more to this life than the one they know. I want to give them the confidence to fight back, the opportunity to see outside of the rez or the islands, and the strength to realize their divine feminine power. ———————————————————————— I am humbly asking my family, friends, fans and fellow fighters to not just help in my campaign, but to find a cause that resonates with you. It might not be the same cause as myself, but as I quoted yesterday, “Only a life lived in the service to others is a life worth living.” I am so honored, humbled and privileged to announce that the campaign for the “Ilimanator Scholarship” has officially commenced. We are challenging anyone to match my scholarship of $2,000, but every little contribution helps even if it is just a repost or share. If you’d like to learn more about this project or donate to the cause, the link is in my bio. Mahalo mahalo MAHALO for the love and kokua . #ilimanatorscholarship #fightingchance #nativelikewater #alohaainawarrior #indigenize
Macfarlane decided to put together a scholarship last summer when she was in Panama with the Native Like Water “International Delegation and Cultural Exchange.” She is a mentor for the Native Like Water organization. While she was there, Macfarlane got the call from Bellator that she’d be fighting for the title against Emily Ducote.
The $2,000 figure is significant, because about $1,500 is enough to provide the cost of travel, room and board and the program fee for one child to travel to a place like Panama, Macfarlane said. Per the website, money raised will be used “to provide Native American and Native Hawaiian adolescent female youth with an opportunity to access world-class indigenous education enrichment programs.”
“If I can get one kid to come through this program and have this life-changing experience — because for me it was life-changing and I’m an adult,” Macfarlane said. “If I can get just one kid, then I’m happy.”
There will be more than just one. Combate Americas fighter Kyra Batara has already pledged to match that $2,000 from her upcoming fight purse for the scholarship fund. Macfarlane said other fighters have reached out, too, and will donate.
“I’m just gonna put it out there,” Macfarlane said. “If people want to donate, they’ll do it. And that’s how it’ll go. It’ll all be good vibes and if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. … I’m just so amazed that people are really putting up for this, especially the fighters. A lot of us don’t make shit. They’re all working second jobs while fighting.”
Macfarlane is Native Hawaiian and she recently found out she is also part Native American. That’s not the only reason why this cause interested her, though. She noted in her post announcing the scholarship that native women have a statistically high rate of violence against them and have some of the highest rates of homicide and missing persons cases.
“That’s why I was drawn to indigenous issues, as well,” Macfarlane said. “Not only with my own background. It’s very underrepresented. People don’t talk about it. Very recently, Hollywood started talking about it. They made several movies about indigenous women. But you still, you just never hear about it in the news.”
Macfarlane, 27, said she plans on defending her Bellator title sometime in the coming months. In the meantime, she’ll be working hard on this project. Macfarlane encouraged people in her Instagram post to give back in a way they see fit, even if it’s not donating to The Ilimanator Scholarship.
“I am humbly asking my family, friends, fans and fellow fighters to not just help in my campaign, but to find a cause that resonates with you,” she wrote. “It might not be the same cause as myself, but as I quoted yesterday, ‘Only a life lived in the service to others is a life worth living.’”