Native American Actors

Published on January 5, 2012 by Amy

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Jay Silverheels
Jay Silverheels

Native American actors have a difficult time breaking through in Hollywood, though some have done so successfully. Despite that handful of exceptions most Native American roles in movies or TV represent unfortunate stereotypes. Native American actors are often type cast in parts that require them to be in loin cloths and head pieces, while others play the casino owner on a reservation. Despite these facts there are have been a few Native Americans that have broken through in Hollywood.

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For example, Jay Silverheels was the first Native American actor to get a starring role in a television series. Though he had several smaller parts he was most well known for playing the Lone Ranger’s companion Tonto in the first TV western series. In addition, August Schellenberg is a Canadian born Native American actor that has found success in Hollywood. He is half Mohawk and half German and is well known for his parts in Free Willy, crazy Horse, and the Rip-Off.

One of the most well known Native American actors is Duane Loken. Loken is part Swedish and part Comanche Indian. He’s had more than 200 parts throughout his career, but is most well known for his role as Wolfpaw in the movie How the West Was Won. Since then he has taken strides to start a singing career.

Other Native American actors that have made it big include Don Shanks who played nakoma on Grizzly Adams, Wes Studi who had parts in Heat, A Road to redemption and The Horse Whisperer, and Benjamin Bratt who costarred in the acclaimed television series Law and order. While there are others, unfortunately there are still not enough Native American actors featured in everyday parts. Hopefully the future of Hollywood will include more Native Americans in starring roles such as lawyers, doctors, and professionals.

Source: native-net Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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