My Top 5 Favorite Native American Actors

My Top 5 Favorite Native American Actors

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 the 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 favorites? 

Who did I leave off?


Wes Studi

  • 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.


Zahn McClaron

  • Tribe: Hunkpapa Lakota
  • Some Featured Films: Silent Fall, Resolution, and Togo

Zahn was born in 1966 in Denver, Colorado, and has a 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.

Branch gets arrested by Mathias. Walt's none too pleased.


Adam Beach 

  • 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.

Smoke Signals (3/12) Movie CLIP - How to Be a Real Indian (1998) HD


Irene Bedard

  • 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 went on to make a strong name for herself since. Though Irene has been divorced since 2012, she is the mother of one son named Quinn Wilson.

Pocahontas | Colors of the Wind | Disney Sing-Along

And I absolutely love this scene from Wreck It Raph 2!

Vanellope meets Disney Princesses | Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet | Animated Stories


Graham Greene

  • 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.

Graham Greene in "Maverick"

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.

 

Last Updated on February 16, 2024 by Paul G


105 Comments on “My Top 5 Favorite Native American Actors”

  • Avatar for Tara

    Tara

    says:

    So many fabulous actors. My faves are Graham Greene, Wes Studi, Tantoo Cardinal, John Trudell, Chief Dan George, Gary Farmer, Sheila Tousey.
    Thanks for posting this.

  • Avatar for Mastinomama

    Mastinomama

    says:

    How about Eric Schweig, Wes Studi, Michael Greeneyes? My favourite Native American actors.

  • Avatar for Bobbi Wolfgang

    Bobbi Wolfgang

    says:

    Michael Greyeyes should be on the list. My favorite!

  • Avatar for Bobbie Highfill

    Bobbie Highfill

    says:

    I agree with your choices. I have seen all but one of the movies. My Dad was Onieda.

  • Avatar for Thomas Hawk

    Thomas Hawk

    says:

    Who knew that Graham Greene was from the same place in Ontario as Jay Silverheels (Tonto of The Lone Ranger Fame)? That’s pretty awesome!

  • Avatar for Heidi Florance

    Heidi Florance

    says:

    Graham Greene, Leonard Peltier. Floyd Westerman, Wes Studi, and any of the Spears bros

  • Avatar for Karan Stewart

    Karan Stewart

    says:

    Besides each that you mentioned add Moon Bloodgood from X-men movie!!

  • Avatar for Lynn Clodfelder

    It is hard for me to choose as I love them ALL. I am TOLD that I am of Cherokee & Lakota decent & have been “dubbed” woman who watches by the Cherokee…..
    I have been trying to learn the Cherokee language….for some time. I have attended 5 pow wows two in Oklahoma one in Ft Sisseton S.D. 1 in Colo & one in Nebraska They are so AWESOME!!!!!!

    • Avatar for Jeffrey C Robinson

      Jeffrey C Robinson

      says:

      Some of my favorite Native thespians are Michael Greyeyes, Tantoo Cartenal, Rodney Grant,Wes Studi,Graham Green. All marvelous actors, Adam Beach and Elaine Miles I had the privilege of meeting at the Gathering Of Nations Pow Wow in Albuquerque, New Mexico 🇲🇽!

  • Avatar for Running Doe

    : Dances with Wolves, The Last of The Mohicans, and A Dog’s Way Home
    Wes Studi was born in 1947 in No fire 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.I liked them all,

  • Avatar for G. E. LoneWolf ( "Wolf" For Short) Scott

    I Love All Of The Native American Actors & All Are My Favs & If I Would Choose It Would B Hard To Do So They All Make The Movies Great When The Natives Are Featured

  • Avatar for PAULA J HARTER

    I love Pow Wows and am honored to be here.

    • Avatar for Nita Cutler

      Nita Cutler

      says:

      The movie was Lakota Woman, Mary Crow Dog is the woman she portrayed. I own a copy.

  • Avatar for clydia defreese

    clydia defreese

    says:

    Chief Dan George , if he’s the guy in Josie Wales, is the one I remember most clearly. He always has such a dry wit, and such a observing countenance. I love his character always.

  • Avatar for Melissa A Craig

    Melissa A Craig

    says:

    what about Martin Sensmeier?

  • Avatar for BOBBY LONEWOLF GENTRY

    BOBBY LONEWOLF GENTRY

    says:

    I have no favorite as all are my favorites.

    • Avatar for Martha Farrellbegg

      Martha Farrellbegg

      says:

      I love all of the Native American Actors…..they are awesome ……so many, Graham Greene, Wes Studi, Russell Means, and many more!

  • Avatar for Diug

    Diug

    says:

    My friend Joseph Runningfox…Young Geronimo in TNT movie version if I’m recalling correctly

  • Avatar for Patty

    Patty

    says:

    I like Elaine Miles, Tantoo Cardinal, Graham Greene, Wes Studi, Rodney Grant, Will Sampson, Russell Means, Jay Silver Heels, Michael Greyeyes and Michelle St John. I know you asked for 5 but once I started I couldn’t stop.

  • Avatar for Robert Lozano

    Robert Lozano

    says:

    QCarlos Palomino Yaqui

  • Avatar for Linda Lawrence

    Linda Lawrence

    says:

    Gary Farmer ‘Dead Man’

  • Avatar for Linda Lawrence

    Linda Lawrence

    says:

    Gary Farmer ‘Dead Man’

  • Avatar for Adsila Nelson

    Adsila Nelson

    says:

    Russell Means, he held me as a baby

  • Avatar for Ardie Jenkins

    Ardie Jenkins

    says:

    Tantoo Cardinal

    • Avatar for Jaime Jeffer

      Jaime Jeffer

      says:

      YES!

  • Avatar for Terry Colvin

    Terry Colvin

    says:

    I would add to the list Will Sampson (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and Chief Dan George (Old LOodgeskins in Little Big Man).

  • Avatar for Rolf Rendahl

    Rolf Rendahl

    says:

    Dances whit Wolf my favorite.

    • Avatar for Francine R Root-Adler

      Francine R Root-Adler

      says:

      My favorite is Graham Greene. It was my goal to see all of his early movies. Thank G-d for Graham Greene I was struggling with deep depression and his movies saved me. Can’t count how many times I have seen Thunderheart!

    • Avatar for Ivana

      Ivana

      says:

      My favorit “Eric Schweig”

    • Avatar for Melanie Myers Ibarra

      Melanie Myers Ibarra

      says:

      And dont forget RUSSELL MEANS in “Last of the Mohicans” !!!
      plus Eric Schwieg (forgive my spelling)

    • Avatar for Debera Smith

      I have to agree with you on your picks but you missed a few. On Steve Reeves, Tonanto Cardnal, Rodney Grant. Love them all.

    • Avatar for Kelly H

      Kelly H

      says:

      Chief Dan George. Amazing Little Big Man.

    • Avatar for Tiffany

      Tiffany

      says:

      Gordon Tootoosis I love all these actors

      • Avatar for Madonna LePage

        Madonna LePage

        says:

        Loved Gordon Tootoosis,Graham Green and Adam Beach

      • Avatar for Mastinomama

        Mastinomama

        says:

        Gordon Tootoosis – we all miss him terribly. Great actor, and such a wonderful smile…
        Of the five mentioned, all are great actors.
        Tantoo Cardinal, Eric Schweig, Wes Studi, Michael Greyeyes, Gary Farmer… the list could go on and on. Is there ANY Native American actor that is not just awesome?

  • Avatar for Grace A Metoxen

    Grace A Metoxen

    says:

    Forgot the late Steve Reevis. Also, Eric Schweig and the late Will Samson.

    • Avatar for Melanie Myers Ibarra

      Melanie Myers Ibarra

      says:

      THANK YOU Grace!!! Steve Reevis and WIll Sampson will ALWAYS be my favorites…may they both R.I.P. !!
      Steve Reevis in “Last of the Dogmen”
      and ofcourse Will Sampson in “One flew over the Cookoos Nest”

  • Avatar for Charlene

    Charlene

    says:

    I am in absolute agreement about Zahn McClarnon. There is something really special about him that is transparent in his acting, whatever the role. He conveys so much through expression alone and he became my favorite from the Longmire series. Just finished watching Barkskins, well done!

    • Avatar for Liz

      Liz

      says:

      Steve Reevis, Blackfeet. Fargo

  • Avatar for Nick V. Fay

    Nick V. Fay

    says:

    Eddie Little Sky? Steve Reeves? These two are on my list

  • Avatar for Roger Williams

    Roger Williams

    says:

    You have picked my favorite actors in your group, but I agree with most Wes Studi stands out as one of the best we have ever had. He has visited our community in Southwest Michigan several times and I have spoken to him a couple of times in those visits, besides the great talent he expresses in his work he is one of the most personable individuals I have ever met, especially to his people. No monuments are necessary his work speaks for itself.

    • Avatar for Jerri Paulk

      Jerri Paulk

      says:

      You and others who have responded have named many great Native actors. Chief Dan George of “The Outlaw Josie Wails”; Will Sampson of an hour long PI program set in Vegas; Adam Beach; Wes Studi; Graham Greene whom I’ve met at a Powwow in Southern CA; Dennis Banks; Floyd Westerman; ” Grandpa Reaches” from Thunderheart, and many more. Than you everyone for the walk down memory lane!!!

  • Avatar for Silvin Ray Soileau

    How about Floyd ” Red Crow” Westerman, Dan George, Ted Thin Elk, and Steve Reevis.

    • Avatar for Francine R Root-Adler

      Francine R Root-Adler

      says:

      My favorite is Graham Greene. It was my goal to see all of his early movies. Thank G-d for Graham Greene I was struggling with deep depression and his movies saved me. Can’t count how many times I have seen Thunderheart! Also agree with Silvan. A lot of really fine Native Actors!

  • Avatar for LINDA

    LINDA

    says:

    Graham Green and Gil Birmingham both starred in Windriver…an awesome movie. Martin Sensmeier was also in the movie. He’s proving to be a great actor. He starred in an episode of FBI’s Most Wanted and boy was I impressed.

  • Avatar for E. K. Blackwell

    E. K. Blackwell

    says:

    Wes Studi was an AMAZING Geronimo!!!

    • Avatar for Rozine Tressider

      Rozine Tressider

      says:

      Tantoo Cardnial, Irene Badard, Adam Beach, Lou Diamonds Phillips, Graham Green and Can’t forget Wes Studi.

      • Avatar for Melanie Myers Ibarra

        Melanie Myers Ibarra

        says:

        Lou Diamond Phillips was really good in Young Guns I/II…
        even though he is actually Phillipino.

        • Avatar for Linda Monroe

          Linda Monroe

          says:

          I agree that Lou Diamond Phillips needed to be included-Philipino is an Indigenous culture. He also was a great Jim Chee in the films of Tony Hillerman’s novels about the Navajo Tribal Police mysteries.
          Another actor who needs recognition (so glad other replies have reminded me of so many Native Actors) is Gary Davis, aka “Litefoot” . He began his career as a rap artist promoting positive cultural ideals. He starred in “The Indian in the Cupboard” movie, “Song of Hiawatha” with Russell Means, Graham Greene and Irene Bedard. As well as”Krull, the Conqueror”
          movies.

    • Avatar for Lisa Pieraccini

      Lisa Pieraccini

      says:

      Yes, West Studi all the way!

      • Avatar for Lorraine Moaba

        Lorraine Moaba

        says:

        Rodney Grant

  • Avatar for MaryStarshine

    Greene was also magnificent in ThunderHeart!!!…. Ok, I like this actor! thanks for publishing…

    • Avatar for Annemiek

      Annemiek

      says:

      Tantoo Cardinal

    • Avatar for LINDA

      LINDA

      says:

      He cracked me up in that movie (Thunderheart.) Loved his lines: “Federal Bureau of Intimidation” and the like whenever he addressed Val Kilmer’s character.

  • Avatar for MaryStarshine

    p.s. Think I just watched that first Graham Greene movie shown on this page, last week… it was on a disc with several other NA movies, with only info on one: I Will Fight No More Forever..

    My favorite GG movie is: DREAM KEEPER… Greene also played “Leonard” the Shaman on the TV series: NORTHERN EXPOSURE… (I have the entire series on disc,…love it)

    Graham Greene, Wes Studi, Adam Beach are faves, to name a few…

  • Avatar for Patricia Timbrook

    Patricia Timbrook

    says:

    Heads up! Program to show on TV Tuesday night. Channel???
    “Blackfeet Boxing Not Invisible”.
    It will be very good and informable.
    Have you heard about it?

    • Avatar for MaryStarshine

      Not heard of Blackfeet Boxing Not Invisible…do you know the time and which time zone i.e. EDT, MDT, etc…??

      Have Blackfeet friend in FL I would like to share info w/her on this…Thanks,

      • Avatar for Rozine Tressider

        Rozine Tressider

        says:

        Tantoo Cardnial, Irene Badard, Adam Beach, Lou Diamonds Phillips, Graham Green

  • Avatar for Linda Reineman

    Linda Reineman

    says:

    Don’t forget Jay Silverheels, aka Tonto, of the Lone Ranger series. Mohawk of the Six Nations Indian Reservation.

  • Avatar for Sally Russo

    I have to admit, I love them all too! but Irene Bedard came to our powwow in Manistee ,Michigan and she and her husband serenaded us at both the powwow and the Little River Casino.She was quite lovely and gracious,my son had his picture taken with her,which I cherish because he is gone now.

  • Avatar for Darla Hitchcock

    Darla Hitchcock

    says:

    Um, Graham Greene was born in 1952, not 1972, and it’s WES Studi, not WEST Studi. Other than that, great list.

  • Avatar for Nancy

    Nancy

    says:

    You forgot the great movie “HOSTILES” with Wes Studi – great movie.

    • Avatar for Melanie Myers Ibarra

      Melanie Myers Ibarra

      says:

      EXCELLENT MOVIE!!

  • Avatar for Lee

    Lee

    says:

    These are all great but leaving out Tantoo Cardinal??!!

  • Avatar for Karen Klinck

    Karen Klinck

    says:

    Jay Silverheels. As far as I know, he was the first Native to play a Native, and he did so with dignity and grace. O know he came from downstate New York, but his tribal connections were never publicized during his life.

  • Avatar for gerard x krausch

    gerard x krausch

    says:

    I would have include Russel Means on the list

  • Avatar for Leona di Colori

    Leona di Colori

    says:

    These are all very good actors. I like them all. Also I like Tantoo Cardinal, Tom Jackson, Tina Keeper, Eric Schweig, Michael Greyeyes , Michael and Eddie Spears, Rodney A. Grant, Q´Orianca Kilcher, Atticus Todd, Sherman Alexy, Tokkala Clifford and of course Keanu Reeves (Matrix) ,Taylor Lautner (Twighlight) and the Younger one : Moony and Kody Dayish: for acting indigenous humor. There are so many more good actors. Greetings and thanks to all actors for their work and messages to the people. Greetings from Germany.

    • Avatar for Jay

      Jay

      says:

      Keanu Reeves is Polynesian, and Taylor Lautner’s claim is dubious.

    • Avatar for Annemiek

      Annemiek

      says:

      Great list you have here. I forgot to mention Tina Keeper. She was also a member of parliament up here in Ottawa for a term.

      • Avatar for Cons

        Cons

        says:

        We buklove Evan Adams up here in Canada… Smoke Signals, Escape to the Barrens and more. He is now an inspiring doctor and voice of indigenous health.

  • Avatar for Lynn Jenkinson

    Lynn Jenkinson

    says:

    Here’s another great actor! Tantoo Cardinal. I love all the actors on your list. Graham Greene is my all-time favorite along with Wes Studi. Also, Irene Bedard. Let’s not forget Adam Beach. So many great Native American actors!!

    • Avatar for MaryStarshine

      Wow! First photo: A VERY YOUNG GRAHAM GREENE!!!

  • Avatar for Victoria Bafitis

    Victoria Bafitis

    says:

    Graham Green, West Studi, Gil Birmingham, Adam Beach, Jay Silverheels and Will Sampson

  • Avatar for Joie Bourisseau

    Joie Bourisseau

    says:

    Good job, Paul!! I learned a few things about my favorite First Peoples!! However, I’ve always seen, and spoken, “WES” Studi. Won’t ride a rodeo on that, but that’s the way I’ve seen it. Blessings Nikanisitook

    btw ~ I don’t usually participate with the POW WOW scene, but appreciate diving into the photography. I’ve enjoyed knowing where I can learn a few things!! Miigwetch!

  • Avatar for Lebold

    Lebold

    says:

    Don Shanks, Will Sampson,Wes Studi, Graham Greene. I’m sure I forget great actors, I’m sorry for that

  • Avatar for Anna Trimboli

    Anna Trimboli

    says:

    I agree
    Love the actors and actress

    • Avatar for Felicia McCullough

      Felicia McCullough

      says:

      I agree fully! All of them are terrific actors! A credit to the field!

      • Avatar for Kenna Talbott

        Kenna Talbott

        says:

        I love them ALL… Everyone is fantastic!!!! Could watch these movies over and over.

  • Avatar for Lidia Huante

    Lidia Huante

    says:

    Adam Beach, Wes Studi, Irene Bedard –YES!
    Also: Tantoo Cardinal and Gary Farmer! All great actors and a pleasure to watch

    • Avatar for Arleen M Morley

      Arleen M Morley

      says:

      Wes Studi or Graham Greene, I can’t decide! Love them both.

  • Avatar for JLynne Y Vasquez

    Gil Birmingham is Comanche and has been working mostly as a television series actor. Twilight, Siren, Yellowstone etc.

  • Avatar for Patricia Cipolla

    Patricia Cipolla

    says:

    I love Rodney A Grant

  • Avatar for aurelia phillips

    Tough choices!! But I loved Graham Green in Dances With Wolves. Who was the “angry Indian” in that film?? He is stunning! Smoke Signals was a great film too ….. the scenes on the res were perfect……So so happy to see films about our people in realistic terms.

    • Avatar for JLynne Y Vasquez

      JLynne Y Vasquez

      says:

      Rodney Grant played Wind In His Hair

    • Avatar for Peggy

      Peggy

      says:

      I also like Floyd “Red Crow” Westerman, Rodney Grant, and Tantoo Cardinal.

    • Avatar for Cheyleen Julian

      Cheyleen Julian

      says:

      I believe his name is Rodney a Grant??

  • Avatar for Teresa

    Teresa

    says:

    Gary Farmer, Elaine Miles and Evan Adam’s are some of my favorites

  • Avatar for Carolyne Lain

    Carolyne Lain

    says:

    Wes Studi, Graham Greene, Lorne Green, Adam Beach, Burt Reynolds, Cher.

    • Avatar for Anna C Shannon

      Anna C Shannon

      says:

      I absolutely love Graham Greene

    • Avatar for Deryl Self

      Deryl Self

      says:

      Elvis Presley!!!

      • Avatar for Clotilde

        Clotilde

        says:

        Elvis Presley was very native Cherokee on the side of his mother, Michael Jackson Choctaw on the side of his father, Kevin Costner and many others that we do not know or suspect.

    • Avatar for Jay

      Jay

      says:

      Cher’s claim of 1/16th Cherokee has been debunked and lampooned. Burt Reynolds’s claim was never verified.

      • Avatar for Melanie Myers Ibarra

        Melanie Myers Ibarra

        says:

        I thought Cher was Aluet (however u spell it) from Alaska??

    • Avatar for Grace A Metoxen

      Grace A Metoxen

      says:

      Lorne Greene was not native American. Neither is Cher; she, herself, denied it after her publicist was the one who started this claim. Burt Reynolds is also questionable

  • Avatar for Sheila

    Sheila

    says:

    I love all these movies. I am very proud of the native blood that runs through my veins.

    • Avatar for Robert Lozano

      Robert Lozano

      says:

      QCarlos Palomino Yaqui

  • Avatar for Lauri

    Lauri

    says:

    Graham Greene was born in 1952.

    • Avatar for Tammie

      Tammie

      says:

      My all time favorite is definitely West Studi. I’m of Cherokee decent. I would love to meet him one day and talk to him. I share the love of nature and herbal medicine as my Cherokee Great grandmother did. She doctored many in the Tennessee mountains until she died.

    • Avatar for Ravi Singh

      Ravi Singh

      says:

      Hi yes,

      I am a follower of Graham Greene and have seen much of his work. There is an error in his year of birth. Lauri is correct it is 1952.

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