Celebrities have always fascinated Kelley, particularly ones who have made the earth a more compassionate, equitable and healthy place.
As the classic rock tune goes, the American dream includes Indians too
American Indians have been acting in movies since the early 1900s, making mostly cowboys and Indians movies, though they’ve shown up in countless dramas, comedies, adventures and war films. They’ve appeared in many TV shows and theatrical productions as well, of course. Generally they’ve played that Indian man or woman, not just "average" people, and often in a stereotypical fashion that could be considered humorous or offensive, especially to Native Americans.
The reader should keep in mind this list only contains actors whose ancestry is at least one-quarter to 50 percent American Indian; that is, the native people arising in the vast lands of the United States and Canada.
Please keep reading!
1. William “Bill” Malcolm Hazlett
William “Bill” Malcolm Hazlett, aka Chief Many Treaties, was a Blackfoot Native American Indian born in Montana in 1874; he was a graduate of Carlisle University. Hazlett acted in many Hollywood Westerns during the 1930s and ‘40s. He appeared in movies such as Flaming Frontiers (1938), Rustlers of Red Dog (1935), Guilty Trails (1938), The Law Rides Again (1943), The Deerslayer (1943), Outlaw Express (1938) Go West Young Lady (1941), Overland Mail (1942) and Black Bart (1948). But perhaps the best movie he appeared in was Buffalo Bill (1944), filmed in Technicolor, starring Joel McCrea, Maureen O’Hara and Anthony Quinn.
2. Jack Hoxie
Jack Hoxie is the only actor on this list born before 1900—1885 to be exact. Incidentally, Hoxie’s mother was half-Nez Perce Indian. Born in Oklahoma, once known as Indian territory, Hoxie became a ranch hand and cowboy, who eventually competed in rodeos. Then, in 1909, Hoxie got his break in show business by joining Dick Stanley’s Wild West show. Hoxie soon graduated to acting in movies, mostly Western shorts, but by the 1920s he could be seen in full-length motion pictures, including 1923’s Where Is the West? Incidentally, Hoxie often acted in films including other Western stars - Hoot Gibson, Harry Carey, and others. Hoxie stopped making movies in the early 1930s but continued working in rodeos, Wild West shows and circuses until the late 1950s.
3. Yakima Canutt
As a teenager, Canutt began working as a rodeo cowboy in Colfax, Washington. In 1912, Canutt, only 17 years old, won the title of World’s Best Bronco Buster. While continuing to win championships for his rodeo prowess, Canutt began working as a stuntman in the 1920s. His first flick was Lightning Bryce (1920). By the 1930s Canutt worked as a stuntman for stars such as John Wayne; in fact, Canutt taught Wayne how to walk, talk and act like a cowhand. Canutt’s most famous role as a stuntman was when he doubled for John Wayne in Stagecoach (1939), performing the dangerous stunts used in the scenes in which Apaches attack the stagecoach as it barrels over a dry lake bed, one of the most iconic scenes in American westerns. Canutt also developed various techniques and devices used to film action scenes in movies, and he also acted in and directed such action-adventure fare in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.
4. Jay Silverheels
Mostly known as Tonto on the Lone Ranger, a 1950s half-hour Western TV show, Jay Silverheels was a Mohawk Canadian Indian who excelled at being an actor and athlete. Born on the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario, Canada, Silverheels began acting in 1937, working as an extra and stunt man; his first movie was Make a Wish, a musical comedy. The list of movies in which he acted is very impressive and comprises 79 movies from 1937 to 1973. Silverheels also appeared on many TV shows. Along with 217 episodes of the Lone Ranger (he had starring roles in two movie sequels), he had parts in many other “oaters”: Wanted Dead or Alive, Wagon Train, Rawhide, Laramie, Daniel Boone, Branded, The Virginian, and more. Interestingly, Silverheels parodied his Tonto character a number of times on various TV shows.
5. Ned Romero
Ned Romero started his show business career as an opera singer; he also appeared in musicals such as Kiss Me Kate and Oklahoma! Romero's ancestry is Chitimacha Native American, French, and Spanish. He began his movie and television career in the early 1960s. In fact, he appeared as an opera singer on the popular TV show The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Moreover, Romero has acted in many movies, notably Mark of the Gun (1969) and Winchester 73 (1967). But his greatest claim to fame in the acting realm has been his seemingly countless appearances on TV shows such as The Virginian, Laredo, Bonanza, Star Trek, Disney’s Wonderful World, Murder, She Wrote, Star Trek Voyager and Walker, Texas Ranger, among many others.
6. Graham Greene
An Oneida Native American, Graham Greene was born on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, Canada. Greene began his acting career working in stage plays in England and Toronto in the early 1970s. His TV debut took place on an episode of The Great Detective (1979). His film career took off in the early 1980s with the release of Running Brave (1983). Greene’s filmography is truly impressive. He appeared as Walter Crow Horse in Thunderheart (1992), Kicking Bird in Dances with Wolves (1990) and Detective Joe Lambert in Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995). Greene has also portrayed numerous American Indians of historical note, including Sitting Bull in a Historica vignette; Shawnee chief Tecumseh in Tecumseh!; and Ishi of the Yahi (a small tribe of California Indians) in HBO’s The Last of His Tribe. Interestingly, Greene became a Member of the Order of Canada in 2015.
7. Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson was born on the Osage Indian Reservation in Oklahoma. Johnson’s mother was Cherokee, while his father was Irish. During Johnson’s youth, he became a championship rodeo performer, who soon advanced to stunt work and acting in movies during the late 1930s. The film, The Outlaw, showed his first acting work in 1943. Although, curiously, Johnson’s acting included little or no work portraying American Indians - Johnson, tall, strong, good-looking and laconic - eventually became Hollywood’s quintessential Western character actor. He acted in many Westerns including the legendary John Wayne and starred in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), often considered one of the greatest Westerns of all time. But Johnson also acted in his share of contemporary dramas. He won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1971 for his work in The Last Picture Show.
8. Wes Studi
Considered a full-blooded Native American of the Cherokee Nation, West Studi fought in the Vietnam War and then, in 1973, participated in the Wounded Knee Incident at the Pine Ridge Reservation. Speaking fluent Cherokee, Studi has taught the language and helped start a Cherokee-language newspaper. Amusingly, in the late 1980s, Studi turned to acting - to meet women, of all reasons. Studi soon acted in some of the best films about Native Americans – Dances with Wolves (1990), The Last of the Mohicans (1992), and he played Geronimo in Geronimo: An American Legend (1993). Certainly having the look of a fierce Indian warrior, Studi also appeared as a chieftain in James Cameron’s Avatar (2009). He also starred in Hostiles (2017), by playing Cheyenne chief Yellow Hawk. To conclude, Studi was inducted into the Hall of the Great Western Performers by winning a Western Heritage Award in 2013; and in 2019 he won an Academy Honorary Award.
9. Irene Bedard
Irene Bedard was born in Anchorage, Alaska, her ancestry including Native Indian groups or tribes such as the Inupiat, Métis, Yupik and Cree. In the late 1990s, Bedard began acting in television and movies. She played the role of Mary Crow Dog in the TV production, Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee (1994), receiving a nomination for a Golden Globe Award. Then, in perhaps her most popular role to date, Bedard provided the voice in Disney’s animated movie Pocahontas in 1995 (she was also the physical model for the character). Moreover, Bedard has won numerous awards for her acting and the list of films in which she’s appeared is a long one, including such notable motion pictures as The Outer Limits (2001), Into the West (2005), and The Spectacular Spider-Man (2008).
10. Chief Dan George
Chief Dan George was actually a chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation in British Columbia, Canada from 1951 to 1963. Also an author and poet, George achieved his first acting job at the age of 60, appearing in the Canadian TV show, Caribou Country. But George’s acting career didn’t peak until 1970 when he starred in Little Big Man, a role for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Another great role for George was the part of Lone Watie in The Outlaw Josie Wales (1976), often considered one of the best American Westerns. And George’s performance in this American classic could be considered Oscar-worthy as well. George also appeared on TV shows such as Kung Fu. During George’s writing career, he was credited with fostering understanding between non-native and Native Americans, particularly with the release of his book, My Heart Soars.
11. John Trudell
John Trudell was a Santee Dakota Native American born in Omaha, Nebraska and grew up on the Santee Sioux Reservation. He served in the US Navy during the Vietnam War. During the 1960 and ‘70s, Trudell was an activist for Native American issues, joining the American Indian Movement and the Alcatraz Red Power Movement. In the 1990s, Trudell embarked upon an acting career, appearing in films such as Thunderheart (1992), On Deadly Ground (1994), Smoke Signals (1998) and Dark Blood (2012). In Thunderheart, Trudell played a character similar to Leonard Peltier, a Native American activist sentenced to life in prison for his part in the murder of two FBI agents at the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975. Trudell was also a songwriter, poet and musician. Interestingly, on his death bed in 2015, he said, “My ride showed up. Celebrate Love. Celebrate Life."
12. Will Sampson
Will Sampson was a Muscogee Creek American Indian born in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. Before Sampson became an actor, he competed in rodeos for about 20 years. His best event was riding bucking broncos. Interestingly, while on the rodeo circuit, film producers discovered Sampson when looking for a large Native American man to play a major supporting role in the movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). Even though Sampson had never acted, he got the part of Chief Bromden. Moreover, Sampson appeared in many other movies and TV shows. He also appeared in a stage production of Black Elk Speaks. Sampson was a painter of note as well, producing a depiction of the Ribbon Dance of his Muscogee people, which can be seen in the Creek Council House Museum in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.
13. Floyd “Red Crow” Westerman
Also known as Kanghi Duta, Floyd Westerman was a Sioux Native American born on the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation in South Dakota. When growing up, Westerman had to cut his long, braided hair and was forbidden to speak his native language. After graduating from college and serving for two years in the Marines, Westerman began a successful career as a country-western singer. It wasn’t until 1989 that Westerman began acting in films; his first movie was Renegades. Thereafter, Westerman acted in many movies, particularly Dances with Wolves (1990), The Doors (1991) and Tillamook Treasure (2006). He also appeared on numerous TV shows, namely Northern Exposure, L.A. Law, MacGyver and The X-Files.
14. Michael Greyeyes
A Plains Cree Indian from Saskatchewan, Canada, Michael Greyeyes is a multi-talented man who graduated with a master’s degree from the Theatre of Fine Arts and Dance at Kent State University in 2003; he also graduated from the National Ballet School in 1984. He’s performed ballet and other dancing in theatrical productions and worked as a choreographer and artistic director. Greyeyes began his acting career in 1993, when he appeared in TNT’s Geronimo, and since then he’s acted in scores of other TV shows and mini-series, most of which Westerns of some kind. In 1996, he played Crazy Horse in Crazy Horse, a TV biopic film about the famous Oglala Lakota war chief. Also, notably, Greyeyes played the part of Sitting Bull in Woman Walks Ahead in 2017; and he played the part of Native American Bret Woodard on season three of HBO’s True Detective (2019).
15. Eric Schweig
A mixture of Inuvialuk, Chippewa-Dene and German, Eric Schweig was born in Inuvik of the Northwest Territories in Canada. Schweig, along with his six brothers and sisters, were adopted by a white, English-speaking family because the Canadian government wanted all Canadian Indians to become fully integrated into white society. Feeling trapped, Schweig ran away at 16, beginning a cycle of partying, failed relationships, violence and despair. He said he didn’t know who he was. In spite of these traumatic issues, Schweig began acting in the theatre in 1985, and then landed a film role in The Shaman’s Source (1990). Like many actors on this list, Schweig has played the part of numerous Native Americans, historical of fictional, in TV and movies, specifically Injun Joe in Tom and Huck (1995) Sitting Bull in Into the West (2005) and Harry Aviak in The Grizzlies (2018). Interestingly, as a hobby, Schweig carves wooden objects, notably Inuit Spirit Masks.
16. Russell Means
Russell Means was an Oglala Lakota Native American born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. As a child, Means was given the name “Brave Eagle” and he moved a lot, from city to city and reservation to reservation. This disruption, Means said, led to a life of crime and drug use. Means didn’t turn his life around until he joined the American Indian Movement and was a major participant in the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973. Indicative of Means' point of view, he considered Columbus Day to be a celebration of genocide. Means remained a Native American activist for the rest of his life, at times running afoul of the police and/or government agents. Over Means’ life, he was shot three times, stabbed once and bombed by aircraft, sustaining a shrapnel injury. He also wrote a controversial autobiography entitled, Where White Men Fear to Tread, published in 1995.
But Means eventually found time to become a superb actor, appearing in many movies and TV shows. His first acting job was in The Last of the Mohicans (1992). Interestingly, Means wrote in his book that he was grateful for having the chance to become an actor. Nevertheless, he thought American films generally portrayed Indians in a stilted, negative way.
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17. Adam Beach
Adam Beach is a Canadian Native American whose ancestry is Saulteaux First Nations, in addition to some Icelandic roots. Both of Beach’s parents dying when he was only eight, he grew up on the Lake Manitoba First Nation Reserve. He began his acting career at the age of 18, when he landed a minor role in the miniseries Lost in the Barrens (1990). Beach has also acted in theatrical productions, many TV shows and numerous high profile movies, including Squanto: A Warrior’s Tale (1994), Windtalkers (2002), Skinwalkers (2002), A Thief of Time (2004), Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (2007), Cowboys and Aliens (2011) and Hostiles (2017). Some of Beach’s best work can be seen in the critically acclaimed and award winning Smoke Signals (1998), an indie film entirely produced by Native Americans.
18. Tantoo Cardinal
Tantoo Cardinal was born in Fort McMurray, Alberta and is a founding member of the Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company. Since the 1970s, Cardinal has acted in theatrical productions, including a Native American production of Shakespeare’s King Lear, as well as many TV shows and movies. Some of her notable film work was in Dances with Wolves (1990), Silent Tongue (1993), Smoke Signals (1998), Wind River (2017), The Grizzlies (2018) and Hold the Dark (2018). Interestingly, in 2011, Cardinal was arrested while protesting the proposed additional construction on the Keystone Pipeline; and in 2017 she was given the two lifetime achievement awards for her work in Canadian television and cinema.
19. Rodney A. Grant
Abandoned by his parents when he was an infant, Rodney Grant was raised by his grandparents while living on the Omaha Reservation in Macy, Nebraska. Grant has acted with numerous movies. His first was War Party (1988), playing the Crow. He’s also appeared in Dances with Wolves (1990), playing Wind in His Hair, Geronimo: An American Legend (1993), Wild, Wild West (1999), Ghosts of Mars (2001) and Dark Blood (2012). Grant has also acted on TV: Son of the Morning Star (1991), playing Crazy Horse; Hawkeye (1994-1995), playing Chingachgook; and Stargate SG-1 (1998), the “Spirits” episode.
20. Gary Farmer
Born in Ohsweken, Ontario, Gary Farmer is known for his development of First Nations media in Canada and is the one of the founding members for the Aboriginal Voices Radio Network. A member of the Cayuga Nation of the Wolf Clan, Farmer began his acting career in 1982 on the TV show Spirit Bay and, later, appeared in Forever Night and The Rez. Able to play quirky, comedic characters, Farmer starred in Dead Man (1995), billed as a psychedelic western. He has also acted in a number of adaptations of Tony Hillerman’s novels: The Dark Wind (1991), Coyote Waits (2003) and A Thief of Time (2004). He has also appeared in The Red Road (2014), a Sundance TV series. And he is frontman for the blues band Gary Farmer and the Troublemakers, which has released two CDs: Love Songs and Other Issues (2007) and Lovesick Blues (2009).
21. Steve Reevis
Growing up on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana and earning an AA degree at Haskell Indian Junior College in Lawrence, Kansas, Steve Reevis began his show biz career working as a stunt rider in the movie War Party (1987), and then he first appeared as an actor in Twins (1988), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger; he also had a nonspeaking role in Dances with Wolves (1990). Reevis won FAITA awards for his acting in the movie Fargo (1996) and the TV movie Crazy Horse (1996). He also appeared in scores of other movies, including Last of the Dogmen (1995) and The Longest Yard (2005), as well as many TV shows such as Walker, Texas Ranger, Into the West and Malcolm in the Middle.
Questions & Answers
Question: Do you have information on the actor Chief Many Treaties?
Answer: Since there's lots of information regarding the actor Chief Many Treaties, I will soon add him to this list.
© 2015 Kelley Marks
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on August 18, 2020:
Thanks for the tip Robert Coopey. I'll check out Steve Reevis and probably add him to this list ASAP!...
robert coopey on August 18, 2020:
steve reevis ? dances with wolves, last of the dogmen etc
Elizabeth Oreilly on June 02, 2020:
Love this site more please? It was lovely to read about some of my favorite Native American actors Wes Study has always been one of my favorites. His acting range is phenomenal form fierce warrior in Last Of The Mohegans and Dances With Wolves to chief with a fatal illness who wants to go home to his native birthplace to die in Hostiles Wes’s work mesmerizes me. Some of my other favorites are Graham Green and Rodney A.Grant
Greg Davis on March 30, 2020:
Simply Stunning ! My Favorite .Whats New ?
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on March 01, 2020:
Thanks for the comment, Michael D. Champion! I'll check out the career of Yakima Canutt and probably add him to this list.
Michael D. Champion on February 28, 2020:
Why was there not one word about the great Yakima Canutt? He not only appeared in minor roles in early Westerns, but became one of the greatest stuntmen & stunt directors in movie history. He was not only John Wayne's stunt double, but went on to direct stunts in dozens of Hollywood blockbusters. Ever see Ben Hur? He directed the stunts in the big chariot race sequence. In an old Zorro movie, he was on screen more than the guy that played Zorro.
Steven Schlah on February 22, 2020:
I was under the impression that X. Brands, of the Yancy Derringer TV series, was a native American. He played am "Indian" in many other movies amd TV episodes
Dianne barton on October 13, 2019:
I hav always loved the american indians from a young age n read every bk i could find on them. What was done to ur people was uncalled for. The world could hav learnt so much from ur people. Never mind.Kama is a bitch. She never misses a thing we do to each other..good or bad..im glad the american indians r still alive n kicking. God Bless You All
John Rondo on September 07, 2019:
Someone mentioned Iron Eyes Cody (The crying indian) was not Native American. He was of Sicilian decent. I met him years ago at a powwow. Ted Thin Elk was not mentioned.I've spoken to him as well. He was "Grand Pa Reaches" in the movie Thunderheart. His son Henry Thin Elk played a very small part in the powwow scene
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on August 09, 2019:
Thanks for the comment, Joe Houseman! Iron Eyes Cody would be a good pick but, unfortunately, he has no Native American blood in him. Sorry!...Should I add him anyway?...
Joe Houseman on August 08, 2019:
How about Iron Eyes Cody?
Al Manook on July 19, 2019:
Actually, Ben Johnson won 2 Oscars. And Wes Studi has just been awarded an Oscar for lifetime achievement. Also, Gary Farmer is one of the best Native actors alive.
Elaine Brooks, from New Jersey on July 04, 2019:
Love this site. I really enjoyed the older Native American actors as a kid.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on June 12, 2019:
Thanks for the tip, Deborah Dinsmore. I've added Rodney A. Grant to this august list of Native American actors. Later!...
Deborah Dinsmore on June 11, 2019:
why would you not add Rodney Grant he is an actor of many movies?
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on April 23, 2019:
Thanks for the comment, Maree! I'll check out Adam Beach and then I may add him to the list. If you can think of any others, please let me know. (I'll check out Tantoo Cardinal, as well.)...
Maree on April 23, 2019:
Where is Adam Beach? Actor played Jim Cher in Hillerman series and Smoke Signals...great movie.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on January 28, 2019:
Thanks for the comment, Evelyn! I've read a few of Tony Hillerman's books, and I'm sure many of these actors would be perfect for the part of Native Americans in those various scenarios of the American Southwest. Later!...
Evelyn on January 28, 2019:
Wes Studi and a host of unnamed actors and actresses also played in the Tony Hillerman series, he was Lt. Leaphorn and a friend was tribal Sgt. Jim Chee. I've read them all and you can visualize them in your mind...very good reading.
Michael Twobulls on December 25, 2018:
Adam Beach and Tantoo Cardinal were left out ? It did say Best Actors
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on December 04, 2018:
Dorothy, I'm not sure Jay Silverheels deserves to be on this list. But maybe I'll add him anyway. Do you really think he qualifies?...
Dorothy on December 03, 2018:
You forgot Jay Sliverheels.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on November 25, 2018:
Thanks for the compliment, George Johnson, this article it kind of a sleeper, since it's just beginning to gain in popularity, which is why I added an eleventh actor to the list. Later!...
George Johnson from San Antonio, TX on November 25, 2018:
Interesting article. I've always enjoyed Graham Greene in things like Dances with Wolves, Maverick, and his latest Wind River.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on November 22, 2018:
Thanks for the comment, Debbi Zimmerman. Maybe I'll add Greyeyes to this list. Later!...
Debbi Zimmerman on November 22, 2018:
You need to include Michael Greyeyes. He’s an incredible actor.
Pixie Lemmage on November 20, 2018:
You have many of my favorite actors. Thank you for the article. Graham Green! Rus Studie! Russel Means! I have enjoyed all of them.
Loved Graham Green on the Red Green Show.
sushan Shrestha on November 19, 2018:
Thanks for the information and I love it
Debby Jackson on November 10, 2018:
Enjoyed reading about the Native American actors .It seems like they all are very talented in the real rodeo an riding skill s.This take s alot of natural history to add to their stories !
Brian Royal Doane on November 04, 2018:
What About Native American Actor in Plotergeist Movies!!!
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on October 06, 2018:
Thanks for the comment, Chastity! Hey, there's plenty of books about Native Americans. Check your local library, particularly a large branch, and I'm sure Amazon has many such books you could buy. You could also see what Wikipedia has too. Later!...
Chastity on October 06, 2018:
I would like to know, is there a book out about famous Native American Indian people and their ancestors. I want to know more about the Native American Indians. Who they are and were. Their autobiography of the Native American Indians and their love of life. Thank You
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on October 29, 2016:
Thanks for the comment, Janellegems. I liked writing this hub. Unfortunately, it hasn't generated many comments. Maybe it will do better later, as the American Indians seem to have done.
Pennington on October 28, 2016:
What an interesting idea for a Hub. Great, detailed information on these Native Americans who are into acting.
Robert Sacchi on May 30, 2016:
Just view unfeatured as an opportunity. When that happens give the Hub an edit, see if there is some text you'd like to add. Add some pictures or a poll or both. The result will be a stronger featured article.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on May 30, 2016:
I hope you're right, Robert Sacchi. This hub deserves more attention. And I hope everyone hurries before Hubpages changes its status to "unfeatured." I hate when they do that! Later!
Robert Sacchi on May 27, 2016:
The Hub hasn't been out there too long. Hopefully there will be many more comments. How is the traffic on this Hub?
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on May 27, 2016:
Thanks for the comment, Robert Sacchi. I'm glad somebody finally responded to this hub, which I enjoyed writing. Later!
Robert Sacchi on May 22, 2016:
These are good mini-biographies. It is interesting how these Native-Americans got into acting. Thank you for posting.