In 2015 ICTMN introduced the 50 Faces of Indian Country magazine to celebrate the wealth of talented American Indians across Indian country. Earlier this year 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?
Below are the final 10 from 2016’s 50 Faces.
The Power Couple: Holly and Mark Macarro
Holly Cook Macarro and her husband, Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians Chairman Mark Macarro, have long been active in Native politics. He works hard at keeping the Luiseño language alive through education and song, and has served on boards ranging from the Native American Rights Fund to the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. “Our Payómkawichum/Luiseño Bands have endured much in the span of America’s history—especially when so many did so much to make us disappear,” he tells ICTMN. “Among the things my Pechanga forebears left us is a political legacy of tenacity. It’s the responsibility of living up to that legacy.” Holly, Red Lake Band of Ojibwe and a partner at Ietan Consulting LLC, has worked to bridge the gap between Native nations and the federal government in Washington D.C. and in Indian country. This has included stints in the White House, policy-making with the Democratic National Committee, and campaign organizing on the Pine Ridge Reservation. She also worked with both Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama’s teams formulating Native policy during the 2007–2008 Presidential campaign. “I am driven by the great history of my own tribe, the Red Lake Nation, and by every opportunity presented to move Indian country forward,” she tells ICTMN. “I am continually inspired by the strong voices of tribal leadership, brilliant colleagues, and the truly dedicated elected officials who fight for us in Congress. After 19 years, I still marvel at how lucky I am to do this work.”
The Perfect Lens: Matika Wilbur
In December 2012, Matika Wilbur, Swinomish and Tulalip, sold most of her belongings and packed up the remaining essentials in her self-described “war pony” to travel around the United States documenting members of the then-562 federally recognized tribes. She has been on the road ever since, creating one of the most moving and important photographic records of Indian country. Project 562 was born from Wilbur’s frustration with the lack of contemporary representation for Native peoples. Largely relegated to history books as a people who only existed in the past, Natives are too often portrayed as stoic characters in outdated, black-and-white photographs. Wilbur sought to change this stereotypical and harmful perception by documenting as many different Native individuals as possible in striking and artful ways. Project 562 is now on exhibit, travelling throughout the country, from Albuquerque to Harvard. Keep up with Project 562 and Wilbur via her blog at matikawilbur.com.
The Water Protector: Dave Archambault II
When David Archambault II campaigned to be elected chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe a few years ago, he expressed the desire to create change. “I know it will be difficult to create change but I am hoping that if given the opportunity, I could move our tribe in a new direction,” he wrote in a biography outlining his platform. “There are numerous issues that need to be addressed, but the only way they will no longer be issues is if we look at them from the future.” The words have proved more than prophetic, as over the past several weeks, Archambault, Tokala Ohitika, has become known to the world as the voice of calm and reason in the standoff between indigenous and environmental concerns, and the backers of the Dakota Access oil pipeline. The son of renowned educator Dave Archambault Sr. (Joe Bucking Horse) has been put to the test at the forefront of resistance to the routing of the 1,172-mile-long pipeline under the Missouri River within a half-mile of the Standing Rock Reservation. Having welcomed President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to the reservation in 2014, Archambault appealed for help in this crisis—and the result may be a new look at how tribal consultation is conducted nationwide. But appearances on MSNBC and editorials in The New York Times notwithstanding, Archambault’s underlying attitude and mission are humble. “As a young father, I want my children to experience reservation life,” he wrote in his biography. “It’s hard because more and more we are losing our identity. If we don’t pass on some of the good ways that were shared with us, our children’s children will not know who or what they are.”
The Model Citizen: Danielle Ta’Sheena Finn
In April of 2016, Danielle Ta’Sheena Finn (Standing Rock Sioux), a 25-year-old Arizona State University law school student, was crowned 2016 Miss Indian World. Her list of accomplishments prior to becoming Miss Indian World include being chosen as a 2013 Center for Native American Youth’s “Champion for Change,” Glamour Magazine’s “1 of 50 Hometown Heroes of 2014: 50 Phenomenal Women of the Year Who are Making a Difference” (representing the state of North Dakota and the only Native American selected), and being the ASU Law School’s 2015 First Year Student Pro Bono Achievement Award. Danielle is a humanitarian who focuses on the welfare of all Indigenous people. In her public statement during the competition, she chose to speak out on the topic of Native youth suicide. She tells ICTMN: “I feel very honored to be selected as one of the 50 Faces of Indian Country for 2016, along with the many other admirable Indigenous leaders and I will continue to fight for all Indigenous People’s Rights for the rest of my life.”
The Face: Wes Studi
Wes Studi, one of the most celebrated Native American actors, spoke only his Cherokee language until the age of five. That’s when he was enrolled in the Murrell Home public school in Oklahoma. After high school, he enlisted in the Army and served one tour in Vietnam. After returning to the States, he got involved in the American Indian Movement, including the occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee. Studi got into acting in 1983 and landed his first movie role in Pow Wow Highway (1989). Since then, he has given the world an incredible range of experiences through works such as Dances with Wolves, The Last of the Mohicans, Geronimo: An American Legend, and Heat, as well as James Cameron’s Avatar and Paul Weitz’s Being Flynn. His other notable credits include The Only Good Indian, which he produced. Throughout his 30-year career he has won numerous awards, including several First Americans in the Arts awards and the 2009 Santa Fe Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2013, he was inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Hall of Great Western Performers.
The Story-Weaver: Gyasi Ross
Gyasi Ross, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, is a traditional and contemporary storyteller who shares his tales through books, music, video and even the law. As an attorney who graduated from Columbia University, Ross is one of Indian country’s most well-known lawyers. He is also the voice behind ICTMN’s extremely popular news column, Thing About Skins. Ross is an avid activist unflinchingly addressing the issues of Native stereotypes, cultural appropriation and Native mascots at the national and international level. He’s the author of Don’t Know Much About Indians (but I wrote a book about us anyways) (2011) and How to Say I Love You in Indian (2014). He also released a spoken word/hip-hop CD, Isskootsik (Before Here was Here), on Cabin Games Records. He is thankful to the many Native people who entrust him with their stories. “The world needs to listen to indigenous people,” he tells ICTMN. “The world does not need to listen because of political correctness or altruism, but instead because we have important lessons to teach that might save humankind from itself, from unrestrained consumerism, greed and lust for power. We have those answers and have demonstrated those behaviors for tens of thousands of years, into the modern day.” – V.S.
The Guide: Tanaya Beatty
Tanaya Beatty’s breakout role came in 2011, when she played Rachel in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1. The Da’naxda’xw First Nation citizen from Canada has appeared in a variety of TV shows since then, among them True Justice, The 100 and Blackstone, and she could take her stardom to the next level with the airing of a major production from HBO. In June of 2015, Beatty was cast to play Sacagawea in HBO’s six-hour miniseries Lewis and Clark, about the journeys of the explorers who ventured into the West, from St. Louis to Oregon, at the behest of U.S. President Thomas Jefferson. Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. She is also known for her films Words and Pictures (2013) and Arctic Air (2012), in which she acted alongside Adam Beach. On being selected for 50 Faces of Indian Country, she told ICTMN, “I feel both surprised and flattered to be selected. Indigenous stories have inspired and enchanted me since I was a kid- to be recognized for doing something I get such joy from is heartening. I hope acting continues to be a medium through which I may express the gratitude and respect I feel for our ancestors and Indigenous communities.”
The Role Model: Daunnette Reyome
Having just started the 9th grade, Daunnette Reyome, UmonHon (Omaha) Tribe of Nebraska, has already taken the fashion world by storm: she appeared in the May issue of Teen Vogue, which ran a photo feature that celebrated diversity in a cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation. The 14-year-old Native began modeling two years ago in Atlanta. As she told ICTMN, “I was such a shy girl when I first started out but with the help of my father I quickly overcame my fear of the runway. He came up with this saying: ‘One look to New York, one look to Paris, now turn around and bring it home.’ That’s what I repeated to myself every time I walked down the runway because I was so afraid of making a mistake.” Even with modeling, she still knows the value of an education. She is taking all AP and Honors courses with a Business Management focus and maintains an A/B average while playing volleyball. She plans on competing in the Miss Georgia Teen USA pageant on November 17 – 19, 2016. Her goal is to hold charitable events on every reservation in Indian country. She also hopes to help the fashion industry understand that cultural regalia isn’t a fashion accessory. “I do want to achieve all my goals, so with everything I involve myself with,” she said, “I live it and breath it. I give 100 percent at all times because I want my peers to be motivated and inspired to do the same.”
The Acting Ambassador: Martin Sensmeier
Martin Sensmeier, of Tlingit, Koyukon-Athabascan, and Irish descent, was raised in a Tlingit Coastal Community in Southeast Alaska, where he grew up learning about the traditions of his tribes. In 2007, he moved to Los Angeles to become an actor, while occasionally working on an oil rig in Alaska. His most recent role is in the big-budget remake this fall of The Magnificent Seven, directed by Antoine Fuqua, starring alongside Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio. Even though Sensmeier now lives in Southern California, he maintains strong ties to his roots. He is an ambassador for The Native Wellness Institute, as well as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and advocates for wellness of Native people, focusing largely on the youth. “I think the best part about making my dream become a reality is the reaction I’ve gotten from the youth,” he says. “When they hear me tell them that their dreams are valid and that they can make them become a reality, no matter what those dreams are, they get excited about that. They believe me because I did it. I am them. Inspiring the youth inspires me to want to do more. I love what I do. I feel incredibly blessed and honored to have come this far, and it suits me much more than working on an oil rig ever did. So the kids, and not wanting to go back to work on the rig- those two things motivate me a lot!”
The Northern Designer: Sho Sho Esquiro
Sho Sho Esquiro (Kaska Dene/Cree/Scottish) is a Vancouver, B.C.-based haute couture fashion designer from Ross River, Yukon. She is known for her meticulous attention to detail and the mixing of fabric, furs, skins and embellishments. She creates clothing that reflects the Northern Territories, incorporating materials like carp leather, seal skin, lynx fur and floral beadwork. In 2013, her collection was featured at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Haute Couture Show in New York City, and in 2014 she represented Canada at Jessica Mihn Anh’s Fashion Phenomenon on the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Among her many awards is being named Best in Show (Couture Fashion Competition) at the SWAIA Indian Market in Santa Fe.