June 16 marks the return of the perennial favorite Passport program, Jamestown, a dramatic take on life in one of America’s first colonies. Perhaps one of the most notable aspects of this show is its efforts to include diversity in its cast through the inclusion of indentured servants, slaves, and the Native American neighbors who have a tenuous treaty with the Jamestown settlers.
The Native American character most prominently featured through the first two seasons of the show is Chacrow, played by Kalani Queypo. Born in Hawaii, Queypo is of Indigenous American, Indigenous Hawaiian and Swedish descent. An actor, dancer, writer, and producer, Queypo’s impressive resume also includes acclaimed roles on The Royal Tenenbaums, Aspen, and Saints and Strangers. Beyond his work on the big and small screens, Queypo is an avid advocate for American Indian voices in the performing arts, working closely with Native Voices at the Autry, a theater company that develops theatrical works by emerging Native American playwrights.
Inspired by Queypo’s work to promote Native artists, we have compiled a list of American Indian actors who have helped fight against stereotypes in media and increase the visibility of Native Americans in the arts.
Up-and-coming actor Forrest Goodluck is a member of the Diné, Mandan, Hidatsa and Tsimshian tribes, and, despite his youth, has already made a significant impact on the entertainment industry. First appearing as Hawk, Leonardo DiCaprio’s son in The Revenant, Goodluck also recently played Adam in The Miseducation of Cameron Post and has several projects coming out soon. In addition to his burgeoning acting career, Goodluck has also directed several short films, which have premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival, Taos Shortz Film, and the LA Skins Festival. Due to his directorial work, Goodfellow was chosen as one of Sundance Institute’s 2015 Full Circle Fellows.
Although she was born in Texas, Marisa Quintanilla has a global education: she trained at the National Theatre Institute and the St. Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia. Of Lipan Apache descent, Quintanilla has played Huilen in Breaking Dawn - Part 2, Ursula Tall Grass in Longmire, and Ila in Dead Men. When she’s not acting, Quintanilla works on projects with her studio, Monarch Media Productions, which is committed to creating content that promotes diversity and challenging stereotypes in film.
Irene Bedard is probably best known for voicing the titular character in Disney’s Pocahontas, as well as her appearances in Westworld and Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s music video for "Family Feud." From Anchorage, Alaska, Bedard is of Inupiat, Yupik, Inuit, Cree and Métis ancestry, and, much like Queypo, she works to increase the visibility of Native American actors. In 2012, she started Sleeping Lady Films and Waking Giants Productions, both of which strive to produce positive and empowering stories about people of Native American descent.
Director Chris Eyre, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, is best known for his film Smoke Signals, which won both the Filmmakers Trophy and the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 1998. He also directed “After the Mayflower” “Tecumseh's Vision” and “Trail of Tears” for the We Shall Remain series on PBS’American Experience, and the Skinwalkers series for Masterpiece, which was filmed on a Navajo reservation with a majority Native cast.
You might recognize Wes Studi as Major Ridge from American Experience’s We Shall Remain, or Joe Leaphorn in the Masterpiece: Skinwalkers series. Studi has a prolific filmography, with performances in the series Penny Dreadful, Hell on Wheels, Kings, and Comanche Moon. He has also appeared in more than 50 films, such as Avatar, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Geronimo: An American Legend and The Last of the Mohicans. Currently, he serves as honorary chair of the national endowment campaign of the Indigenous Language Institute in Santa Fe, which strives to provide Native language learners and teachers with the tools they need to help revitalize the use of Native languages among indigenous communities.
While Sacheen Littlefeather might be best-known for her social work, the Apache/Pueblo activist also performed in a number of films, including The Trial of Billy Jack (1974), Johnny Firecloud (1975), and Winterhawk (1975). Littlefeather notoriously represented Marlon Brando when he refused his Oscar for The Godfather, but her work representing American Indians went far beyond this event. In 1969 she and other members of Indians of All Tribes occupied Alcatraz Island to protest the U.S government’s refusal to recognize Native American land claims. More recently, she founded the American Indian AIDS Institute of San Francisco, and was one of the founding members of the National American Indian Performing Arts Registry.
Floyd ‘Red Crow’ Westerman
A member of the Great Sioux Nation, Floyd ‘Red Crow’ Westerman was a renowned actor, appearing in Dances with Wolves, Hidalgo, The Doors, Northern Exposure and The X-Files. He was also an accomplished songwriter, and his songs “Custer Died for Your Sins” and “BIA Blues” helped to raise awareness of the American Indian Movement. It was through his career as a musician that he performed with Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, and Don Henley, as well as toured with Sting to publicize the mistreatment of the Rainforest People and the destruction of the rainforests of Central Africa.
A member of the Creek Nation and one of the founders of the National American Indian Performing Arts Registry, Will Sampson was a painter, rodeo performer, and iconic actor. His filmography includes his performance as Chief Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ten Bears in The Outlaw Josey Wales (1975), and Crazy Horse in The White Buffalo (1977). Through his work with the National American Indian Performing Arts Registry, Sampson helped to create a registry of Native American actors and urge studios to make use of this untapped talent. This organization’s greatest victory came with Dances with Wolves, where they were able to point the film’s director to the Native actors who would go on to help the film win several Oscars.
Born in Los Angeles, Abel Fernandez was an actor of Yaqui descent. His most prominent role was as Agent Willian Youngfellow on the television show The Untouchables, though he also had re-occurring roles on Gunsmoke and Daniel Boone, making a career of playing both Native and Mexican characters. Prior to his acting career, Fernandez was a professional boxer, achieving the Light Heavyweight title in the Los Angeles Golden Gloves competition in 1950, and an induction into the California Boxing Hall of Fame in 2013.
African Americans at Jamestown
Kelani Queypo on IMDB
For actor Kalani Queypo, Emmy Awards diversity is personal
Irene Bedard on IMDB
Abel Fernandez on IMDB
Ex-Boxer, Paratrooper now an 'Untouchable'
Abel Fernandez Obituary
Forrest Goodluck on IMDB
Chris Eyre on IMDB
Sacheen Littlefeather on IMDB
How Alcatraz Linked Marlon Brando and Sacheen Littlefeather, Who Refused His ‘Godfather’ Oscar
A Recent TV Slur Revives Debate About Sacheen Littlefeather
Marisa Quintanilla on IMDB
Will Sampson on IMDB
William Sampson on Oklahoma Historical Society
Bob Hicks, Filmmaker Who Paved Way For Native Americans In Hollywood, Dead at 80
Floyd Red Crow Westerman on IMDB
Wes Studio on IMDB
Indigenous Language Institute Board of Directors