Famous Native American Portrayals in the Movies

Posted By Charlie Ballard November 29th, 2015 Last Updated on: December 1st, 2015

Some our most famous Native people in history have had their life stories immortalized on the big screen, here are a few people you might know and who played them, enjoy! #nativeheritagemonth

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 12.53.05 AM

In 1994, Adam Beach (Saulteaux First Nations) played Squanto in, “Squanto: A Warriors Tale”  .  Squanto comes from the Wampanoag tribe, which is credited for giving the first Thanksgiving dinner to the Pilgrims, history would not be so kind to the Wampanoag as most of them were killed off by disease and war.  This version of Squanto is considered, “historically inaccurate chronicle of Squanto's life prior to and including the arrival of the, ‘Mayflower' , in 1620”  . (imdb)

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 12.52.53 AM

In 2005, Q'orianka Kilcher (Quechua-Huachipaeri) played the legendary role of Pocahontas in, “The New World” .  Pocahontas's real name was Matoaka, and she comes from the Pamunkey tribe of Virginia.  Interestedly enough when the colonists had first contact with Matoaka, she wasn't a teenager or even a full fledged woman as she was portrayed in the Disney cartoon movie but only, “a child of tenne years old”  . (wikipedia) Matoaka eventually married off into the Western world and became Rebecca Rolfe, she lived to the age of 21 and is believed to have died from tuberculosis or pneumonia.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 12.52.36 AM

Currently in production is the HBO miniseries called, “Lewis & Clark” .  The lead actress playing Sacajawea will be, Tanaya Beatty (Da’naxda’xw First Nations)  .  Sacajewea is a Agai-Dika-Shoshone and is credited for helping guide the Lewis & Clarke expedition.  Washington State University, who run the Agai-Dika Shoshone historical website noted, “for her honest display of friendship and loyalty, she received no pay for her efforts during this ordeal” . (lemhi-shoshone)

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 12.52.21 AM

In 1992, Graham Greene (Oneida) played Ishi in, “The Last of His Tribe” .  Ishi was supposed the last Yahi Indian of California.  Because Hollywood loves to romanticize Native Americans as being the last of anything, Ishi does in fact still have many cousins living alive and well living thru out California.  That goes without saying that most of his tribe, along with many other California Indian tribes were decimated by pioneers coming to the West Coast looking for gold.


In 1951, Burt Lancaster (Irish) portrayed the Greatest Athlete in history – Jim Thorpe (Sac & Fox) in the movie, “Jim Thorpe: All American”  . Jim reportedly chose Burt to play him because of his physical build.  Jim won gold medals at the 1912 Olympics in the pentathlon and the decathlon.  Jim lost his medals for playing professional baseball priors to the Olympics, which the IOC eventually returned to him 30 years later.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 12.52.04 AM

In 1983, Robby Benson (Jewish) played another Native American Olympic athlete – Bill Mills (Oglala Lakota) in a film called, “Running Brave”  . Billy won the 10,000 meter run at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.  These days you can find Billy on the motivational speaker circuit.  Mills is the co-founder of the nonprofit group Running Strong for American Indian Youth with Eugene Krizek. The aim of Running Strong is to help American Indian people fulfill their basic needs -food, water, and shelter while also helping their communities gain self-sufficiency and self-esteem. (wikipedia)


Home » Native American Articles » Native American Art » Famous Native American Portrayals in the Movies

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

[…] Billy Mills is the first and only American athlete to win Olympic gold for the 10,000 meters footrace. Aside from being an Olympian, he also champions the survival of Native Americans through self-sufficiency, building self-esteem through the programs of Running Strong For America Indian Youth. […]

Alan Butera

Awesome movie “The New World”. Q’orianka Kilcher was excellent and very beautiful in the part of Pocahantas. Sad the latter half of the movie and the going to England part.

Eligah Boykin Jr.

Thank you for this information! It was very enlightening! Looking forward to more good news as you continue to grow and progress as a World Power!

Free Email Series: What to Expect at Your First Pow Wow