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“True Detective”'s Kali Reis Shines a Light on Indigenous Issues: 'I Get to Voice the Voiceless' (Exclusive)

The boxer-turned-actress tells PEOPLE how she's helping to end violence against Indigenous women

<p>Justin J Wee</p> Kali Reis in Brooklyn in 2022.

Justin J Wee

Kali Reis in Brooklyn in 2022.

Before Kali Reis was starring alongside Jodie Foster in True Detective: Night Country, she was a six-time world champion knocking out opponents in the boxing ring.

As she was racking up wins in her early 20s, Reis, who hails from Providence, R.I., and is of Cape Verdean and Seaconke Wampanoag descent, discovered the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) movement, a social campaign to bring awareness to the epidemic of violence faced by Native women.

“I did have a family member [go missing] so it hit close to home,” Reis tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “But a lot of times we’re like little kids: We need picture books. We don’t want to read the words.”

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So Reis, 37, worked to paint a compelling picture of some stark truths: Indigenous women are ten times more likely to be murdered than women of other ethnicities, and more than four out of five have experienced violence. She began advocating for MMIW at conferences, on social media and even during fights, with special insignias stitched to her trunks.

<p>Michele K. Short/HBO</p> Jodie Foster and Kali Reis in 'True Detective: Night Country.'

Michele K. Short/HBO

Jodie Foster and Kali Reis in 'True Detective: Night Country.'

Related: Jodie Foster Says Her True Detective Character Is an ‘Alaska Karen’: ‘No Two Ways About It'

“It wasn’t like I set out to be an activist,” she says. “I just was using my voice with the platform I had.”

In 2021, she saw that platform get larger, with her film debut in Catch the Fair One, about a half-Native American, half-Cape Verdean boxer tracking her abducted younger sister. The film’s writer and director, Josef Kubota Wladyka had reached out to Reis on Instagram about starring in the movie. Reis was nonplussed, at first.

“Josef saw something in me I didn't even know I had,” says Reis, who also contributed to the film’s story. "I was like, ‘Why are you trusting me to tell this? I'm not an actor, but I'll do the best I can.’ He just said, “You got the juice, okay?’”

Her moving performance caught the eye of Foster, who suggested Reis for the role of Evangeline Navarro, an Alaskan state trooper of Iñupiaq heritage, in True Detective: Night Country. The six-episode fourth season of HBO's anthology crime drama follows Foster and Reis’ characters investigating the mysterious deaths of eight scientists in the fictional town of Ennis, Alaska, featuring strong Indigenous representation in the cast and touching upon the topic of MMIW.

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<p>Max Cisotti/Dave Benett/WireImage</p> Kali Reis and Jodie Foster.

Max Cisotti/Dave Benett/WireImage

Kali Reis and Jodie Foster.

Related: 'True Detective' : Jodie Foster Is Not 'F---ing Around' as She Solves a Murder in Alaska's Endless Night

Reis says she shares some similarities with her character, whom creator Issa López made an Alaskan Native after learning that rural Alaska was largely populated with Iñupiaq people.

"Issa took her time and really composed and created this character with so much care and so much time, and she was pretty much her stubborn little Scorpio self," the actress jokes. "I had to meet her where she was at, basically."

Next, she'll play a Native woman from the Northeast Woodlands in the crime drama Wind River: Rising, with Scott Eastwood and Alan Ruck.

“I keep getting these opportunities to voice the voiceless,” she says. “The stories that are going to be [shared], the faces that are going to be seen, the truths that are going to be told — I’m so excited for all of it.”

For more on Kali Reis, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here

Seasons 1-4 of True Detective are available to stream on Max.

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Read the original article on People.