There are several terms used to identify Native Americans. Originally they were called "Indians" because European explorers thought they looked like the Indian people of Asia. Even after it was long determined they were not from Asia, the term stuck, and so many people still identify them as "Indians". I do not, because it confuses them with real Indians of Asia, when conversing with people. Russel Means stated that he prefers the term "Indian", as he points out that every one born in America is a Native American. Other people call them "First Americans". Personally, I grew up calling them "Indians", but am growing used to calling them "Native Americans", as that seems to be the less confusing term.
Native Americans I have listed here, of course, must be listed in IMDb. However, that doesn't mean that actors not listed in IMDb are necessarily excluded. I don't know of any, but conceivably some Native American actors may be listed at IBDb (Internet Broadway Database) or elsewhere. Actors not listed in IMDb may be named at the bottom of this summary.
Actors in this list may or may not have majorly played Native American roles in films. But they are primarily known for being Native American. For example, Jim Thorpe is well known for being Native American, but his acting career is hardly known at all and was not related to his ancestry. On the other hand, Will Rogers is known to be part Cherokee, but his Native American ancestry is not generally known, and so is not included. But Jim Thorpe, whose ancestry is widely known, is included, despite his film career being generally unknown. Some may have only a small portion of Native American blood, but have portrayed significant Native American roles. Others may have a significant degree of Native American blood, but have played only small Native American roles. This list is a mixture of those these standards.
Actors listed here may not necessarily be of great cinematic note. Dennis Banks and Jim Thorpe are prime examples. Many Native American actors have taken up the cause of their native people in promoting their culture, language and affairs. This activity adds to their ancestral familiarity and so are included here. They may not be well known for their acting, but are better known for their activism. It's my intention to include them here, if they have played some significant film role.
Most Native American actors have been typecast as Indians. That is changing very slowly. The most successful Native American actors to escape typecasting are 1) Adam Beach, 2) Graham Greene to some degree, 3) Lou Diamond Phillips and 4) Wes Studi.
At this time I don't intend to get into other film or TV professions besides acting. I don't own or watch TV, so performances named here are primarily cinematic rolls, but I do include some TV roles if significant cinema rolls are lacking.
“ Evan Adams was born in 1966 in British Columbia. He is of the Sliammon First Nation. In addition to acting, Adams is also a playwright and a medical doctor.
Adams is most famous for his role in "Smoke Signals" (1998). ” - roark183
“ Dennis Banks is Chippewa-Anishinabe, born in Minnesota. Banks is not particularly known for his acting. He is more known for his activism in promoting Native American affairs & culture, being a founding member of AIM (American Indian Movement).
Banks is so well known for his activism that he has played himself in at least 10 films, documentaries and TV series. He played himself in "Thunderheart" (1992) & "Incident at Oglala" (1992). The most significant fiction role he played was a small part in "The Last of the Mohicans" (1992). ” - roark183
Adam Beach was born in Ashern, Manitoba, the son of Sally and Dennis Beach, and was raised on the Dog Creek First Nations Reserve, with his two brothers. A troubled childhood saw his mother killed by a drunk driver, and his alcoholic father drowned only weeks afterward. The three brothers went to live with their grandmother and then with their uncle and aunt in Winnipeg...
“ Irene Bedard was born in 1967 in Anchorage, Alaska. She is of Inupiat Eskimo and French Canadian/Cree descent.
Bedard acted in "Smoke Signals" (1998), but she is best known for her voice in "Pocahontas" (1995) and being the physical model on which the animation of Pocahontas was based. ” - roark183
Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, Borrego studied theatre and dance at The University of Incarnate Word; he studied acting at The California Institute of the Arts. In the 1980s he attended an open audition for the TV Series "Fame" where he won the role of "Jesse Velasquez", a role he would have for three years...
“ Jesse Borrego is of Washeeka/Mescalero Apache Indian as well as Mexican descent.
For me his most prominent role was as Tecumseh in a 1995 television film. ” - roark183
Actress Tantoo Cardinal, a Member of the Order of Canada, one of the country's highest civilian honors. The Order of Canada recognizes Cardinal for her contributions to the growth and development of Aboriginal performing arts in Canada. Arguably the most widely recognized Native Actress of her generation; Tantoo has appeared in numerous plays...
Gary Dale Farmer is a Canadian character actor with plenty of character. With over 100 Film and TV appearances attached to his resume, and plenty more in the pipeline, Gary has shown he can adapt easily to any genre when necessary. He was born in Ohsweken, Ontario, into the Cayuga nation and Wolf Clan...
“ Gary Farmer was born in the Canadian province of Ontario. He is of Cayuga nation and Wolf Clan descent.
Farmer is known for his roles in "Dead Man" (1995) and "Smoke Signals" (1998). ” - roark183
Chief Dan George
Chief Dan George was born with the names Geswanouth Slahoot (which was anglicized as Dan Slaholt) to a tribal chief on Burrard Indian Reserve No. 3 in North Vancouver. His last name was changed to George when he entered a mission boarding school at the age of 5, where the use of his native language was discouraged, if not forbidden...
Rodney A. Grant
Native American actor, Rodney Arnold Grant was born the 9th of March, 1959. After his biological parents abandoned him, his grandparents raised him from 6 months of age, up until 1982. Rodney has five adult children: three daughters from his ex-wife, all of which were raised by their mother, and two sons from previous relationships...
“ Rodney Grant is of the Omaha tribe in Northeastern Nebraska. The Omahas were one of the few Native American tribes to never have taken up arms against the US government. They were the first of the Northern Plains tribes to adopt an equestrian culture.
Grant most notably played in "Dances with Wolves" (1990) and "Geronimo: An American Legend" (1993). He also played the same character in two historical films about Genghis Kahn. ” - roark183
Saginaw is the Hereditary Chief and a respected member of the Sac and Fox, Iowa and Otoe-Missouria Nations. In 1936, Saginaw Morgan Grant was born to Sarah and Austin Grant Sr. at Pawnee Indian Hospital in Pawnee, Oklahoma. He was raised on a farm in Cushing, Oklahoma with two brothers and one sister...
“ Born in Oklahoma, Saginaw Grant is of the Sac-n-Fox tribe. The word "Saginaw" is a Chippewa-Ojibwa word, meaning "land of the Sauks". The Sauks (or Sacs) were originally from the area around the St. Lawrence River, but were pressured by the Iroquois to migrate to Michigan, around Saginaw Bay. In wars against the French, the Sacs merged with the Fox tribe in Michigan, becoming the Sac-n-Fox tribe. Further wars & defeats with the US government thru the 1800's resulted in the Sac-n-Fox tribe migrating from Michigan to Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and majorly to Oklahoma.
Grant had a traditionally spiritual upbringing. He became culturally active by continuing to teach Native American culture. Grant had a joking relationship with Floyd 'Red Crow' Westerman. His favorite & most famous role has been in this year's "The Lone Ranger" (2013). He also played in "The World's Fastest Indian" (2005). "Indian" in that title does not refer to the people, but to a make of motorcycles. ” - roark183
“ Graham Greene is of the Oneida Indian Nation, born in Ontario. Oneida is one of the five Iroquois Nations in northern New York, before being pressured to migrate North and West.
Greene has always portrayed very smooth & mild characters. He has a very distinctive mild base voice that lends itself to narration of documentaries. His most notable films have been "The Green Mile" (1999), "Grey Owl" (1999), "Maverick" (1994), "Thunderheart" (1992) and "Dances with Wolves" (1990). ” - roark183
Crystle Lightning is everything that her given name implies: a clear bolt of penetrating energy. This vivacious young beauty co-stars in the fourth installment of the American Pie movie franchise American Pie 4: Band Camp and is on track to become one of the most talked about young women in Hollywood...
“ Crystle Lightning is of Plains Cree ancestry and born in Alberta.
She has played mostly in TV movies and series since 1994. ” - roark183
Georgina Lightning brings a long track record of creative experience in the film industry as an actor, producer, director and acting coach on such projects as: Dreamkeepers, Backroads, Johnny Greyeyes, Christmas in the Clouds, Tecumseh, the Oath and Smoke Signals among countless others. Lightning has also guest starred in T.V. episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger and West Wing...
“ Georgina Lightning is of Plains Cree descent and was born in Alberta.
She has played rolls in films & television since 1995. ” - roark183
Russell Means was born an Oglala/Lakota Sioux Indian. He was the first national director of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in which role he became prominent during the 1973 standoff with the U.S. government at Wounded Knee. In 1987, he joined the U.S. Libertarian Party and announced his candidacy for the party's presidential nomination...
Carmen grew up in Coquitlam, BC. with her mother and younger brother. When figure skating didn't work out at 14, she turned her focus to theatre and performed in the junior and high school musicals. She joined the Spirit Song Native Theatre Co. in '91, and worked with them for 9 months. She was hired on an act of faith for Theatre New Brunswick's Young Company tour in '92 and got rave reviews...
“ Carmen Moore ancestry is half of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation, located near Burns Lake in central British Columbia.
She has played mostly in TV movies and series. Her most notable performances have been in Blackstone and Arctic Air, both TV series. ” - roark183
“ Will Sampson (1933 - 1987) was born in Oklahoma. He is of Muskogee / Creek descent. In addition to his acting, he painted and founded the American Indian Registry for the Performing Arts.
Sampson got his break and is most remembered for his role in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975). He also played in "The Outlaw Josey Wales" (1976) with Clint Eastwood. ” - roark183
Steve was born and raised on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, Montana. Son of Curley and Lila Reevis, he is the 4th of 6 siblings. He graduated from Flandreau High School and attended Haskell Indian Junior College in Lawrence, Kansas where he received a degree in arts. After junior college, he left the reservation in Montana to try to begin an acting career in Los Angeles...
“ Buffy Sainte-Marie was born 1941 in Saskatchewan, Canada. She is of Cree descent. Buffy is primarily known for her singing, but has also acted on TV. Her singing focuses on peaceful issues and indigenous peoples. ” - roark183
Jay Silverheels was born on Canada's Six Nation's Reserve and was one of 10 children. He was a star lacrosse player and a boxer before he entered films as a stuntman in 1938. He worked in a number of films through the 1940s before gaining notice as the Osceola brother in a Humphrey Bogart
film Key Largo
“ Jay Silverheels (1912 - 1980) was born in the Canadian province of Ontario. He was the son of a chief of the Mohawk First Nation.
Silverheels is by far most remembered for his role as Tonto in the series, "The Lone Ranger" (1949 - 57). Silverheels regarded the character Tonto as degrading, and it effectively typecasted him as an Indian for the balance of his career through 1974. His role in "Key Largo" (1948) brought him enough attention to win him his role as Tonto. ” - roark183
Born in Chamberlain, South Dakota and resides in Montana he has five brothers, one sister and is Lakota Sioux Tribe. His first role was in the film "Dances With Wolves" as Otter. Michael went onto appear in "Skins", "Into The West", "Yellow Rock", guest role on "Longmire" and in Cyril Morin's "The Activist" He has an APA Award for best subject matter in a film...
From small-town Oklahoma native to internationally acclaimed actor and musician, Wes Studi credits his passion and multi-faceted background for his powerful character portrayals that forever changed a Hollywood stereotype. Within a few years of his arrival in Hollywood, Studi caught the attention of the public in Dances with Wolves
“ Wes Studi was born 1947 in Oklahoma as a full-blooded Cherokee. He spoke only Cherokee until he started school. After his Army service he taught the Cherokee language and founded a newspaper. He participated in the Wounded Knee Incident in 1973 (not to be confused with the massacre in 1890 at the same location).
Studi's most memorable films are "Dances with Wolves" (1990), "The Last of the Mohicans" (1992), "Geronimo: An American Legend" (1993), "Heat" (1995), "Seraphim Falls" (2006), "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" (2007 TV movie) and "Avatar" (2009). ” - roark183
“ Cree Summer was born in Los Angeles, but was raised as a Plains Cree in Saskatchewan, having Cree ancestry.
She has been mostly known for rolls in television and videos since 1983. ” - roark183
Ted Thin Elk
A Sicangu Lakota (Sioux) who spent most of his life on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Ted Thin Elk saw very few movies in his lifetime, and was 72 when he got his first role as "Grandpa Samuel Reaches" in the film Thunderheart
. Contrary to his bad boy reputation, Val Kilmer
“ Ted Thin Elk (1919 - 1997) lived most of his life on the Rosebud Lakota Sioux Reservation. He was a highly revered elder on the reservation. He saw very few films in his life and was 72 years old in his first film.
His most memorable role was his first in "Thunderheart" (1992). ” - roark183
Renowned Native American athlete who excelled in the 1912 Olympic games in Stockholm but was later stripped of his Olympic medals for having previously received monetary compensation for engaging in professional sport. He later showed up on movie screens as a bit player in westerns. He was portrayed by Burt Lancaster in the film Jim Thorpe -- All-American
“ Jim Thorpe (1888 - 1953) was of multiple ancestry, including the Sac-n-Fox Nation in Oklahoma, where he was born. In his own lifetime Jim Thorpe was been widely acclaimed as the greatest and most versatile athlete in the world. His most famous athletic accomplishments were winning two gold medals in the 1912 Olympics in addition to playing professional baseball & football.
Thorpe retired from sports in 1928. He started his acting career in 1931 and played mostly bit parts. Most of his parts were uncredited. He played in 69 films through 1950, but is most remembered for his athletic achievments. ” - roark183
Victor Daniels was given the title of "Chief" in an honorary capacity and identified himself as Cherokee. His application for a social security number lists his birth date as April 12, 1899 and his birthplace as Arizona. Thundercloud was the first of nine children born to Jesus Daniels and Tomaca Daniels (as indicated on his social security application)...
“ Chief Thundercloud (1899 - 1955) was born in the Muskogee region of Oklahoma. His descent is uncertain. He was either Muskogee / Creek or Cherokee. He was given the name "Chief" in Hollywood.
Thundercloud played the early versions of Tonto of "The Lone Ranger" films in 1938-39 in addition to playing Geronimo in 1939. ” - roark183
“ Michelle Thrush, born 1967 and raised in Alberta, is of Plains Cree ancestry.
Her most notable films have been "Dead Man" (1995) and "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" (2007 TV Movie). She has played mostly in TV series and TV movies. ” - roark183
“ Gordon Tootoosis (1941 - 2011) was of Plains Cree and Nakoda descent. Initially he lived on reservation, until forced into Catholic schools. Afterward he became interested in his cultural traditions, becoming an accomplished native dancer and rodeo roper. He was also a popular Pow-wow announcer.
Tootoosis acted from 1974 until his death in 2011. His most memorable rolls were "Black Robe" (1991), "Call of the Wild" (1993 TV movie), "Lonesome Dove" (1994 TV series), "Legends of the Fall" (1994), "500 Nations" (1995 TV mini-series documentary), "Lone Star" (1996), "The Edge" (1997), "Reindeer Games" (2000), and "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" (2007 TV movie). ” - roark183
Born in Keshena, Wisconsin, Tousey is a Menominee and Stockbridge-Munsee Indian, raised on both the Menominee and Stockbridge-Munsee Reservations. A professional dancer and actress, Tousey began Indian dancing as a small child but did not perform on stage until she attended the University of New Mexico...
“ Sheila Tousey, born 1960 in Wisconsin, is of Menominee and Mahican (Mohican, film & novel "Last of the Mohicans" notwithstanding) descent, both tribes being part of the Algonquian tribal family.
She has acted in film & TV since 1992. Her most significant films have been "Thunderheart" (1992) and "Dreamkeeper (2003 TV movie). ” - roark183
John Trudell was born in Omaha, Nebraska, to a Santee Sioux father and Mexican Indian mother. After a stint in the Navy (and Vietnam) from 1963 to 1969, he became involved with the American Indian Movement, becoming National Chairman in 1973. He held that position until 1979; it was then that his wife Tina...
“ John Trudell was born 1946 in Nebraska to a Santee Sioux father. He became involved in AIM (American Indian Movement), being chairman 1973 to 1979. His family was killed in a fire in 1979 and since he has engaged in poetry, music & acting.
Trudell's most memorable roll was when he played himself in "Incident at Oglala" (1992 documentary). He also played in "On Deadly Ground" (1994) and "Thunderheart" (1992). ” - roark183
“ Floyd 'Red Crow' Westerman (1936 - 2007) was of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe of the Dakota Sioux. He was born on the reservation in South Dakota. He was a Native American activist and a country western singer before he became an actor. Westerman had a joking relationship with Saginaw Grant.
Westerman played rolls from 1988 till his death. His most remembered rolls are "Dances with Wolves" (1990), "500 Nations" (1995 TV documentary), "Grey Owl" (1999) and "Hidalgo" (2004). ” - roark183
“ Roger Willie was born 1964 in New Mexico. He is of Navajo descent, though he grew up off the reservation.
Willie is most noted for his role in "Windtalkers" (2002). He speaks his native Navajo better than English, making him invaluable in that film. ” - roark183