Manataka American Indian Council













11 Native Americans

Everyone Should Know
by Terri Jean, Editor of The Native Truth




Recently I polled 38 young children - ages 4 to 12 - asking them to name 5 famous Native Americans. Most, of course, knew the historical figures: Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Tecumseh, and Squanto. When asked to name Native people alive today, only a handful had an answer and, for over half, it was Wilma Mankiller. Not one child knew of the Native American astronaut, race car driver, golfer or Olympic figure skater. And when I said there was a Native American rap artist, they were astonished!


DR. ELOISA GARCIA TAMEZ, the Lipan Apache human rights defender, and the only Native American woman and individual to counter-sue the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Customs Border Patrol against the construction of the U.S. border wall, in Tamez v. Michael Chertoff et al.  To this day she staunchly defends Aboriginal Title of Lipan Apaches, and challenges the U.S. claims to sovereignty in Indigenous lands and over Indigenous Nations in the U.S. courts and in the Inter-American Commission/Organization of American States.



CHARLENE TETERS - Activist, of the Spokane Nation. Teeter has been referred to as the "Rosa Parks" of the American Indians. She campaigned against her alma mater, the University of Illinois, for using a Native American-looking effigy - Chief Illiniwek - dresses in feathers and war paint, as their school mascot. Chief Illinewek would dance to a drumbeat at local football games, humiliating and offending Teeters and others. She began protesting against the Indian mascot at the University of Illinois, then created an 1994 exhibit called "It Was Only an Indian: Native American Stereotypes" which identified Native American racism and stereotypes in the media and corporation advertising. She eventually became the subject of the highly acclaimed documentary, "In Whose Honor" of which Brenda Farnell, Professor of Antropology from the University of Illinois said, "It is an important piece of work, perfect for waking students up to contemporary issues facing Native peoples today." 


JOHN HERRINGTON - Astronaut, of the Chickasaw Nation. Herrington is the first Native American to walk in space when launched November 23, 2002 aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor. Serving as the flight engineer for launch and landing, Herrington vowed to carry the Chickasaw Nation flag with him into space. Members of his tribe watched the historic launch, and Herrington honored his Native American heritage by carrying six eagle feathers, a braid of sweet grass, two arrowheads, and his nation's flag.



CORY WITHERILL - Race Car Driver, of the Navajo Nation. Witherill has been racing for more than 15 years, including three seasons in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship. In 2001 he finally debuted in the Indy Racing League and then the Indy 500 (placing 19 out of 33). The first full-blooded Native American to run in the Indy 500, he also holds two U.S. championships for off-road stadium racing and in 2001 became the first person to be a four-time champion at the Motorcross Valvoline de Montreal. His career goal is to be the first Native American to win the Indy 500. His website is  

NOTAH BEGAY - PGA Pro Golfer, of Navajo, San Felipe and Isleta lineage. Begay is the first Native American Indian to join a PGA Tour. He turned professional in 1995 and joined the tour in 1999. His former teammate, Tiger Woods, said he is "happy to represent the Native American people, and in some regards be a role model." When asked why he thinks there are not more professional Native American athletes, he responded, "A lot of it is opportunity, and a lot of it is a lack of support networks, whether it's just simple encouragement or financial... There's not a lot of facilities."


WINONA LADUKE - Activist/ Author/ Vice President Candidate, of the Mississippi Band of the Anishinabeg of the white Earth reservation located in Minnesota. LaDuke, a Harvard graduate, works on restoring the local land base and culture. In 1994 she was named by Time Magazine as one of America's 50 most promising leaders under 40 years of age. She has authored several books, received the Reebok Human Rights Award in 1988, and ran for Vice President in 2000 with Ralph Nader under the Green Party ticket.


LITEFOOT - Actor/ Rapper/ Corporation Owner, of the Cherokee Nation. Litefoot, considered the first commercial Native American Rap Artist, first gained notoriety after releasing the album, "The Money" (1992) on his own Red Vinyl Records. After subsequent albums and touring, he won the Native American Music Award in 1996, 1998, and 1999. Litefoot made his major motion picture debut in 1995, starring in "The Indian in the Cupboard." He then went on to act in several movies including "Kull, the Conqueror", "Mortal Kombat, Annihilation", and "Adaptation".




NAOMI LANG - Pairs Figure Skater, of the Karuk Tribe of California. Lang, who partners with Russian-born Peter Tchernyshev, is the first Native American to participate in the Winter Olympics. The two have competed and placed several times in the U.S Nationals, and also placed 8th in the World Championships. In addition, the two are the 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003 U.S. Ice Dance Champions. They plan to compete in the 2005/2006 Olympic Winter Games and in to perform across the United States in the 2003 Summer Champions on Ice Tour. 




SANDRA SUNRISING OSAWA - Film producers and director, of the Makah Indian Nation. Osawa is considered one of America's premier Native American independent film producers and directors, known for her touching contemporary films such as the award-winning "Lighting the 7th Fire" and "On & Off the Res with Charlie hill." Her work have screened at numerous film festivals including Sundance, as well as on television. 



SHERMAN ALEXIE - Poet/ Novelist/ Film Producer/ Screenwriter, of the Coeur d'Alene/ Spokane Indian Nations. Alexie has published 7 books of poetry, a book of prose, a short-story collection titled The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1993), and the novels, Reservation Blues and Indian Killer (New York Times Notable Book). The award winning author was named by The New Yorker as one of the best American fiction writers under forty. In 1998 he produced the renowned, award-winning film Smoke Signals, which was the first Indian-produced, Indian-written, Indian-acted, Indian directed feature film ever to be distributed in the U.S. Alexie's new short story collection is titled, The Toughest Indian in the World. 



PATTY TALAHONGVA - Journalist and News Program Host, of the Hopi Nation. Patty Talahongva, vice president of the Native American Journalists Association, is the first Native American to host national news program , Village America. She has produced TV newscasts, documentaries, and special projects for television, plus she writes for various national newspapers and magazines and contributes to the national radio talk show, "Native America Calling."     





I realize that there are many, many noteworthy Native people who also deserved listing, but these are the 11 that I respect most.  


Feel free to send Manataka the name of the Native person YOU admire. Please include a short bio.



As of January 01, 2007 the current list of Indigenous professional hockey players in the National Hockey League (NHL) include:

Aaron Asham
Rene Bourque
Jonathan Cheechoo
D.J. King
Cody McCormick
Wade Redden
Jamie Rivers
Chris Simon
Sheldon Souray
Jordin Tootoo