In 2015 ICTMN introduced the 50 Faces of Indian Country magazine to celebrate the wealth of talented American Indians across Indian country. Last month the second annual issue, 50 Faces of Indian Country 2016, was published to highlight once again the work of a new crop of accomplished individuals and role models—including actors, leaders, and activists—who can offer inspiration to Native youth on a daily basis.
After all, what’s more uplifting than enjoying the positive contributions being made by some of the most talented people on the planet?
Careful readers will notice that movie star Adam Beach, who leads off this year’s issue, has the distinction of being the only Face of 2016 who was also featured in last year’s magazine. Given the release of Suicide Squad and other strong performances during the past two years, it only made sense for him to be our first repeat, year over year.
Below are the first 10 from 2016’s 50 Faces.
The Blockbuster: Adam Beach
At just 43 years of age, Adam Beach, a Saulteaux raised on the Dog Creek First Nations Reserve, has appeared in more than 60 films and television shows all over the world. It is noteworthy to mention due to his success in 2016, appearing in one of the year’s biggest blockbusters along with projects in post-production, Beach is ICTMN’s only repeat from last year’s 50 faces. Though he is known overwhelmingly in Indian country for his 1998 role as Victor Joseph in Smoke Signals, Beach has also racked up a slew of awards, including a Golden Globe nomination for his role in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (2007) and his role in the Oscar-nominated feature Flags of our Fathers, (2006) directed by Clint Eastwood, for which he was nominated for a Critics Choice Award. Also worth noting is Beach’s most recent role in the blockbuster Suicide Squad, (2016) in which Beach played the super-villain Slipknot. Though his time on screen was brief, he set a precedent for a Native appearing in a Hollywood super-hero movie that has already grossed hundreds of millions of dollars. – V.S.
The Dance Legend Daystar/Rosalie Jones
For more than 50 years, Daystar/Rosalie Jones has danced, choreographed and taught throughout North America, nurturing the development of indigenous talent. Born on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, she recognizes Little Shell ancestry through her mother’s lineage. She earned a Master’s Degree from the University of Utah, and studied at Juilliard School in New York City with Jose Limon, a pioneer of modern dance. In 1980, she founded Daystar: Contemporary Dance Drama of Indian American, considered the first Native modern dance company in the United States. In April 2016, she received the Institute of American Indian Arts’ First Annual Lifetime Achievement Award in Performing Arts presented “in honor of her lifetime of creativity, inspiring others and service to the field.” Her 30 works include Wolf: A Transformation and the scripted dance-dramas No Home but the Heart and Legacy of the Dream. Special Collections at University of California-Riverside houses the Daystar Archive. “In the beginning, the Creator gave to each one of us our own unique gift,” Daystar told ICTMN. “It is our responsibility to develop that gift throughout a lifetime so that, at the end, that will be our gift back to the Creator.”
The Visionary: Richard Peterson
Economic Development. Partnership. Tribal Sovereignty. Community Sustainability. Richard (Chalyee Éesh) Peterson, Tlingit and Haida from the Southeast Alaska village of Kasaan, has aggressively pursued all these goals as president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (Central Council), the largest regional tribe in the state. Peterson’s ability to bring cultural values and business together via partnerships with federal, state, tribal and municipal governments has gained him national recognition. A founding member of the tribally owned Prince of Wales Tribal Enterprise Consortium (POWTEC), Chalyee Éesh promotes self-sufficiency in rural Alaska. He brought millions of dollars into POWTEC and did the same for his village tribe, the Organized Village of Kasaanis. In just two years as president, he has planned a cultural immersion park, a language immersion daycare, secured certification for the Tlingit Haida Tribal Business Corporation, and acquired a multimillion-dollar government contracting firm. He has received numerous awards, and serves on several boards representing Alaska Native interests. “Credit can never belong to one person,” he tells ICTMN. “I work with an Executive Council comprised of true leaders and have aligned a strong management team. We work hard to uphold the mission of the tribe, and our true strength is in our vision for tribal self-governance.”
The Cyber-Warrior: Geoffrey C. Blackwell
Described as a both a legal eagle and a cyber-warrior, Geoff Blackwell (Muscogee Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Omaha) considers representing tribal voices in Washington D.C., moving the needle on the digital divide, and increasing tribal business among the greatest accomplishments of his career. He became the first tribal member to work at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2000. For more than five years, he directed FCC activities to incentivize the deployment of broadband and communications technologies across Indian country. From 2005-2010, he helped lead Chickasaw Nation Industries, Inc., before returning to the FCC in 2010, when he established its Office of Native Affairs and Policy. Blackwell served as the FCC’s founding chief through 2015, before moving on to his current job – Chief Strategy Officer and General Counsel – at AMERIND Risk, where he oversees finance, IT, human resources, communications, as well as its newest entity, AMERIND Critical Infrastructure. Through AMERIND Risk, Blackwell helps tribes protect their homes, businesses and workforces and acquire broadband technologies. A graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Virginia School of Law, Blackwell “stands on the shoulders” of a family dedicated to tribal and public service. His parents were both attorneys, and his mother Sharon Blackwell was the highest-ranking Indian woman ever in the Department of Interior when she retired as the deputy commissioner of Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2002.
The Wordsmith: Joy Harjo
The brave writer of the 2012 memoir Crazy Brave has been an esteemed poet, author, artist, musician and activist for decades. Joy Harjo, Mvskoke (Creek), has written eight books of poetry, a memoir, two children’s books, a collaboration with photographer/astronomer Stephen Strom, an anthology of North American Native women’s writing, several screenplays and two plays. In 2015, she was the first American Indian to receive the Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award, one of the country’s most prestigious awards for poetry. Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, her latest poetry collection, is on the shortlist for the Griffin Prize and was named an American Library Association Notable Book. This grandmother and great grandmother has also championed the arts, mentored and inspired young artists and activists throughout Indian country. Among her current projects is an ambitious a musical play, We Were There When Jazz Was Invented, which will change the origin story of American music to include southeastern Native peoples.
The Leader: Byron Mallott
Making history has become a habit for Alaska Lt. Governor Byron Mallott. He took office in December of 2014 as the first Alaska Native leader elected to statewide office, and joined Governor Bill Walker as the first non-partisan administration in Alaska history. Mallott was born in Yakutat, the ancestral home of his mother’s Tlingit clan. That’s still where he’s registered to vote, along with his wife Toni, an Athabascan, who was born and raised in the Alaskan village of Rampart. Mallott entered public life as mayor of Yakutat at the young age of 22 and has since held many positions in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. He has served as the state’s first commissioner of community and regional affairs; president of the Alaska Federation of Natives; founding president of the First Alaskans Institute; trustee, chair and executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation; and chair of the Nature Conservancy of Alaska. In the private sector, Mallott has served as chair, president and CEO of Sealaska Corporation (one of 12 Alaska Native Regional Corporations); served on the board of Alaska Air Group, and Bank of America subsidiary boards in Washington and Alaska; and as a director of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco. Mallott has also been a small business owner and commercial fisherman. However, Mallott says his proudest service is as clan leader of the Tlingit Raven Kwaash Kee Kwaan Clan of Yakutat.
The Documentarian: Billy Luther
Billy Luther, Navajo, Hopi and Laguna Pueblo, is the director/producer of the award-winning documentary, Miss Navajo, which premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and aired nationally on PBS’ Independent Lens that same year. He studied film at Hampshire College and worked on projects for the New York City Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian’s Film & Video Center. His second documentary feature Grab premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and aired nationally on public television that same year. He co-directed the Native America episode for the MTV documentary series Rebel Music, which was MTV’s highest viewed/shared content in their history of online programming. His latest short documentary film Red Lake had its world premiere at the 2016 Los Angeles Film Festival. He has been selected for the Sundance Institute’s Native and Indigenous Fellowship, Film Independent’s Project: Involve, and Tribeca Film Institute’s All Access program. Luther’s films have also screened with the American Documentary Showcase, a collaborative program with The State Department and U.S. Embassies around the world. He served on the Sundance Institute Alumni Advisory Board and the International Documentary Association Board of Directors. He is currently Executive Producer on the upcoming documentary Remember My Name, a working title for a film following a heated primary election for the presidency of the Navajo Nation, examining the world of LGBTQ rights and the meaning of identity in the largest Native American tribe in the United States. He is also in production on a series exploring the world of Native fashion designers.
The Rapper: Tall Paul
Paul Wenell Jr., better known by his stage name, Tall Paul, Leech Lake Ojibwe, began writing lyrics in 2002, when he was just 14, inspired by his older siblings and cousins, and the diverse hip-hop they were listening to on the radio. In 2009, he began recording and performing in his hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Paul’s music deals largely with the challenges that come with growing up an urban Indian, and the identity struggles that come along with that. He seamlessly raps in both English and Ojibwe, his indigenous language, as he strives to learn more of the language. And this, in turn, helps others learn more about him, his music and his culture. “I hope my music not only entertains, but also inspires people to get back to the love we were all full of as babies and kids,” Paul said. “To break down all barriers and labels that separate us, so we can recognize our oneness, that would be the highest achievement for me. We all live under the same sky and breathe the same air. “I’m honored and surprised to be included in the 50 Faces of Indian Country list; to know that people are paying attention to my movement still leaves me in awe.”
The History Maker: Denise Juneau
She’s been breaking down barriers since 2008 and come November, Denise Juneau (D-Mo) could become the first American Indian Congresswoman. An enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa Tribes and a descendant of the Blackfeet tribe, Juneau became the first American Indian woman elected to a statewide office in Montana when she was elected as Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction in November 2008. She is currently campaigning to unseat incumbent Ryan Zinke as Montana’s sole congressional representative. In her tenure as superintendent, Montana’s academic standards have risen, while college and career opportunities have expanded. She’s also an advocate for “responsible natural resource development in a way that benefits Montana’s schools, keeps the state’s resource economy moving forward and preserves access to public land.” She has continued to fight for quality education in her home state so much so Montana has seen increased opportunities and a collective boost to the state’s economy. “I’m honored to be included among the American Indian leaders who are making a difference. I grew up in rural Montana on the Blackfeet Reservation. … We certainly didn’t start out with much, but my parents instilled in me a work ethic that can only be found in Montana. They taught me that with a good education, hard work, and a lot of support – it is possible to go from Head Start all the way to Harvard. Now, I want young American Indian kids to see it’s also possible to go from a rural Montana reservation to Congress.”
The Crusader: Gabe Galanda
He’s been called a crusader, and if you ask Gabe Galanda about that he’ll say, “I guess I’m guilty as charged.” Just look at his longstanding work with the non-profit Huy (which in Lushootseed means “see you again/we never say goodbye”), which he founded to get Native inmates the right to worship in traditional ways. Or his latest commitment: to “find a cure” to the disenrollment epidemic. He’s emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of the practice. The Round Valley citizen and Indian civil rights lawyer says the roots of disenrollment lie in colonialism, not indigeneity. “Disenrollment threatens our very existence. It is self-termination. It has to end.” In 2010, Galanda formed his own firm, Galanda Broadman, PLLC, which has seven attorneys and offices in Seattle and Yakima, Washington and Bend, Oregon. He and his “Indian Country law firm” (“we are legal servants to both the people and the land”) also represent tribal governments and businesses in what he calls “bet the tribe” controversies (those where the tribe’s very being is at stake) — treaty rights, taxation and sacred lands. Galanda says his legal work is so much more than just work. “We are family, and so are our clients,” he explains. “When it comes to family, you go beyond the call of duty.”