June 26th, 2020 Last Updated on: February 10th, 2022
It is no secret that Native Americans have had a rough history, filled with segregation, hate, and discrimination. For a long time, Hollywood films represented Native Americans unfavorably, representing them in marginalized and inaccurate behavior. Indian filmmakers and Native American actors had to fight to develop an artistic voice for themselves, carving out space for accurate expression in film.
Today, modern Native American movies have progressed significantly in representation, compared to popular Western films that featured cowboys who pitted against or were aided by some one-dimensional Indian characters. Though I commend all Native American actors, there have been many incredible ones that I have favored, and I would love to share them with you.
You'll see my bias based on my favorite movies and TV shows!
Who are your favorite Native American actors?
Who did I leave off?
- Tribe: Cherokee
- Some Featured Films: Dances with Wolves, The Last of The Mohicans and A Dog's Way Home
Wes Studi was born in 1947 in Nofire Hollow, Oklahoma, and an internationally acclaimed actor and musician. He has been in numerous films, delivering powerful character portrayals that have helped Hollywood change the prolonged stereotypes. He has been in over 80 movies and TV productions and currently lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his wife, two sons, and daughter.
- Tribe: Hunkpapa Lakota
- Some Featured Films: Silent Fall, Resolution, and Togo
Zahn was born in 1966 in Denver, Colorado, and has Native American and Irish descent. He began his acting career in high school and has been in countless movies and TV productions, including Westworld and Timeless. In 2017, Zahn took a fall that caused a brain injury that required hospitalization, which stopped Westworld production for a bit. However, he got back up and is still going strong.
- Tribe: Anishinaabe member of the Saulteaux tribe
- Some Featured Films: Windtalkers, Cowboy & Aliens, and Smoke Signals
Adam was born in 1972 in Ashern, Manitoba, and is best known for his role as Victor in Smoke Signals and Tommy in Walker, Texas Ranger. Growing up, he spent his days on the Lake Manitoba/Dog Creek First Nation Reserve at Lake Manitoba. He started his career by attending drama class at Gordon Bell High School, which inspired him to perform at the local theatre, and then dropping out of school to pursue his acting career in full force. Today, he has been married three times, has three children.
- Tribe: Inuit and Cree ancestry
- Some Featured Films: Smoke Signals, Pocahontas (voice), and The Harbinger
Born in 1967, Irene grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and is a well-known Native American actress. She has played a variety of characters in memorable films, and what shaped her title was her voice-over role in the 1995 animated film, Pocahontas. Her first role was in the movie Mary Crow Dog in 1994 and she has since gone on to make a strong name for herself. Though Irene has been divorced since 2012, she is the mother of one son named Quinn Wilson.
- Tribe: Oneida
- Some Featured Films: Dances with Wolves, The Wild Girl, and Thunderheart
Graham Greene is an Oneida Indian and was born on the Six Nations Reserve in 1952. Starting out his life, he worked as a carpenter, a rock music roadie, a welder, band manager, and a recording studio owner. Jumping into the acting, he began with minor roles in movies, but skyrocketed to fame after receiving an Oscar nomination for his acting role in Dances with Wolves.
Native films have flourished in recent years, and the productions that have come out are second to none. I love movies with respected Native American actors, especially when they have such amazing talent that can really transform the storyline into something captivating. The list of actors above are some of those said people, who made an extraordinary mark in not only my life, but many others as well. So, go check out their movies for yourself, and see if you enjoy their acting as much as I do.
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