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Indigenous Identity Drives Iowa-Based Running Company

Red Earth Running Company


Red Earth Running Company is an athletic outfitter, local race sponsor, and Iowa-based company. But more than that, Red Earth Running Company may very well be the first business of its kind geared at supporting indigenous runners.

Dirk Whitebreast, a member of the Meskwaki Nation, created Red Earth Running Company after noticing a distinct lack of representation for indigenous identity in the national running community and in the outfitting and advertising materials that support the sport.


“Over time you start to take into account the brands that you’re purchasing, the amount of money that you spend buying all of these different items from different companies. And when you think about their ads, rarely do you see that indigenous face,” Whitebreast says. “I know I wasn’t the only person thinking it. And it was never about being the first person to do it. It just had to happen and I’m glad to be a part of it.”


Red Earth Running Company is more than the running gear it sells. It’s a platform to elevate indigenous runners while seeking to form a community of native runners across the country.


One community member is Verna Volker, a mother, ultramarathoner, and member of the Navajo Nation who is now an ambassador for Red Earth Runners.

“I feel like I live in two worlds. I’m Navajo, but at the same time I live in this white world where I’ve just kind of adapted to my environment,” Volker says. “So when I go to races, sometimes I feel like I am the only one who is like the diversity there. Sometimes it bothers me. But I always think to myself, I’m just a runner like that person.”



Credit Red Earth Running Company
Verna Volker as a Red Earth Running Company Ambassador


The pair met through Instagram, where Volker, who lives in Minneapolis, runs @Native_Women_Running, an online community where she shares the stories and progress of other indigenous women runners. Volker says she’s been surprised by the fast growth of the account, which now has 1,200 followers.


“I’m meeting these women and I’m just thinking, these are incredible stories of women who are doing these amazing things. Indigenous women,” Volker says.


On this hour of Talk of Iowa, Whitebreast and Volker join host Charity Nebbe to discuss Red Earth Running company, and the importance of amplifying the voices of indigenous runners within the wider running community.


Later in the hour, a look back at the career of Coach Dennis Olejniczak, who recently retired after 55 years as the coach of the Decorah Vikings baseball team in Decorah, Iowa. Coach O, as his players call him, ended his career with 1,417 wins to his name. He was chosen as Iowa's Coach of the Year three times and was named National Coach of the Year in 2009.



Hear the conversation with Coach Dennis Olejniczak.

Katelyn Harrop is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa