Apocalypto Actor Under Fire About Heritage - Is He Or Isn't He?
By Lauren Horwitch, Apri 12, 2007
It's one of those great discovery stories. Rudy Youngblood was working at a Lowe's home improvement store in Texas and performing with a NativeAmerican theatre troupe when he hit the casting jackpot: a starring role in Mel Gibson's 2006 Mayan epic, Apocalypto.
In an industry with few high-profile Native American actors, the 24-year-old Youngblood paid homage to his Comanche, Cree, and Yaqui heritage in a slew of interviews. "I have ancestors who fought at Wounded Knee and Little Big Horn, so it's not hard to use my Native American heritage for this role," he told Time magazine
Apocalypto was a modest hit; Youngblood signed with ICM. On April 14 he is to receive an acting award from First Americans in the Arts, a nonprofit group that honors Native Americans in entertainment -- a seemingly fairy-tale ending.
But there's a major flaw in Youngblood's tale, according to Comanche scholar and commentator David Yeagley, who for almost a year has accused the actor of falsifying his Native American ancestry. "Rudy is apparently not American Indian at all, despite what the publicity says about him,"Yeagley wrote in a Dec. 12, 2006, post on his website, Bad Eagle.com. "It is identity theft, usurping the honor of those Indians who died for the blood of their people. Hollywood, apparently as well as Rudy, has no appreciation for this. Indians do."
A March 28 Los Angeles Times article took the controversy, which has been brewing in Native American online forums, into the mainstream. JoleneSchonchin, a spokesperson for the Comanche Nation, supported Youngblood and told the Times he "is not on our tribal rolls, but he does have Comanche blood. His blood comes from his paternal side. His father was a full-blooded Comanche and a prominent member of the Comanche tribe, PrestonTahchawwickah."
However, Youngblood told the Times and wrote on his website that Tahchawwickah is his adoptive father. According to www.rudyyoungblood.com, "As a young boy, Preston and Fern Tahchawwickah brought Rudy into their family as their son. He was also adopted Cree and is a member of the SlimJohn family. Like many Native people, Rudy is an integral part of several Indian families throughout the United States."
But adoption into a Comanche family may not be enough for Yeagley or the Comanche Nation. Under the precepts of the Nation's constitution, too fficially enroll, applicants must provide documentation, such as birth certificates or other federal documents, proving they are at least one-eighth Comanche Indian. The actor told the Times his biological mother is Comanche and his biological father is Yaqui, but he did not provide their names.
Other evidence suggests Youngblood is part African American and/orHispanic. His biography on the Internet Movie Database states his mother is half African American and he changed his last name from "Gonzales."
Youngblood said in the Times article that in the past he has used the name Gonzales, which is his stepfather's. Ironically, if Youngblood's roots areMexican and/or Central American, the actor might be more closely related to the people of Jaguar Paw, the Mayan character he portrayed in Apocalypto.
So far, Youngblood is keeping the specifics of his genetics under wraps. He told the Times, "I am Comanche. I'm not going to go into names. My tribe knows it. That is all that needs to be said." Youngblood's representative declined to schedule an interview between the actor and Back Stage.
Degrees Of Doubt
Actor Mark Reed, who serves as chairman and national representative forAmerican Indians in Film and Television, an advocacy group for Native Americans in entertainment, said the issue goes beyond Yeagley's beef withYoungblood.
"Both Rudy and David Yeagley need to consider the impact they're having on the entire American Indian community of artists," he said. "Although David Yeagley is making very poignant points about it, he needs to take that into consideration. But at the same time, RudyYoungblood has an obligation to Indian country to dispel these charges rather than avoiding it."
The controversy comes at a particularly bad time for Native Americanactors, who are starving for TV and film work. In a recent study of scripted television series from fall 2005 to fall 2006, Reed's organization found there was not one Native American actor among 400 regular roles 1,000 recurring roles, and 8,000 guest roles.
In January a UCLA study of TVand film casting breakdowns from June 1 to Aug. 31, 2006, found only 0.5 percent of roles called for Native American actors.
And even when the odd roles are offered, they're usually less than desirable. "They're very limited roles, and they're always stereotypical roles.... Unless the individual really is of the American Indian community, they can represent Indians in a very demeaning way without even knowing it," Reed said, adding that the eruption between Yeagley and Youngblood could narrow that playing field even further.
"If there's a controversythat goes on every time they hire an American Indian when the community comes out and says he's not an Indian...[casting directors] say, 'Look, we don't want to take the time or energy to deal with that.' They'd rather cast somebody else."
Yeagley responded that while he recognizes the dearth of Native American roles, he is protecting his people and culture by questioning Youngblood.
"If you're not Indian, don't claim to be. That's a simple, logical response," Yeagley said. "[Youngblood] could say he loves Indian culture, he loves participating in it, he even loves playing an Indian role. Fine.But to pick a family name like that and claim that's your bloodline...we're talking about a case of fraud here."
Reed and Yeagley agreed that Youngblood could put the whole situation to rest by proving his ancestry in a number of ways, the simplest of which would be to produce a letter from a Comanche official recognizing his lineage. Yeagley said he would be satisfied if the actor simply made publi the names of his family members enrolled in the Comanche Nation.
Both also acknowledge that thousands of U.S. citizens claim to be NativeAmerican without officially belonging to a tribe. Reed said enrolling in one of the 562 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes can be an exhausting process, particularly because each tribe has its own enrollment criteria.
According to the Comanche Nation's website, there are more than 13,000 enrolled members. Reed said Youngblood must prove he is at least related by blood to one of them or face damaging his career. "When you become a public figure as an actor, then the public owns you, and you need to dispel these kinds of rumors and charges because it has a great impact on the rest ofthe Indians," he said. "It's no different than being a public figure and you say, 'I have a Harvard degree.' Well, show me your degree."
Western Shoshone Elder Speaks About Battle With Feds
Submitted by Ken Hughes
By Sara Broncho
POCATELLO - A Sacajawea Symposium "For the Future Generation" was hosted by ISU featuring a number of Native American Indian speakers on a spectrum of topics.
Carrie Dann, Western Shoshone elder spoke on Wednesday, March 28 and presented a film documentary "Our Land, Our Life" about her families personal account of the U.S. Government and the gold mining corporations in their efforts to remove her and her sister from their treaty lands purposely ignoring and denying them of their treaty rights.
The Dann sisters became activists by force and in the name of Indian rights. They have been fighting to preserve the rights of not only the Western Shoshone, but all Indian people and Indigenous people around the world with similar struggles. She voiced that she believed in "Newe Sogobia," the people's Earth Mother and as an Indian person she is fighting for the unborn children, the generations to come.
Mary Dann, Carrie's sister, passed away in the middle of all this controversy in an accident on the ranch, but Carrie still continues the fight in her 80s. In speaking at ISU she brings awareness about the ongoing struggle of Indian rights, environmental issues. She came to speak to students and members of the Indian community to hear the perverse reality of where Indian rights are at today, but that they are gaining ground in an uphill battle.
The film documentary showed Mary and Carrie Dann as simple ranchers feeding their cows, fixing fence, and gathering pine nuts on their lands - the Shoshone territories. Since 1973 the BLM officials persistently warned the sisters that their cows were on government lands and sued them for trespassing.
The Dann sisters knew their rights by 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley - a treaty of peace and friendship for safe passage to the non-Indians not a treaty of cession. The treaty includes portions of Nevada, California, Idaho and Utah. In 1979 the U.S. Court of Claims awarded the Western Shoshones $26 million, but it was not accepted and still sits unaccepted.
The Western Shoshones never sold their ceded lands - never extinguishing their rights to them. On several attempts the BLM impounded the Dann's livestock and horses, the product of their livelihood from generations of their family. The films showed the BLM vehicles coming down the road as if they were going into war up against an army with helicopters and carrying guns. The two Dann sisters in their 70s stood their ground and held to their treaty rights.
The films showed one of the Dann family members in a stand off where he doused himself with gasoline as the armed BLM officials tried to move in. The film also showed the BLM using physical force holding the women against their will. Dann spoke about what her perspective as a native person and how gold and greed is the focus of the government and the big mining corporations.
She pointed out the many ironies the people need to question. The first time in court in 1974 the point came up about the Western Shoshone lands being taken by "gradual encroachment," and Dann challenged this term and how it was justified.
"What is gradual encroachment, when was that law made, who was the president, when was it enacted?"
Included is the Dann ranch, which sits atop of an abundance of gold which the mining corporations plan for their next mining site; the sacred Yucca Mountain that they want to use for nuclear waste storage of mercury, cyanide and other nuclear chemicals; and land where underground testing has been going on for years. Thousands of gallons of water are sucked up from deep within the earth 365 days a year used for the gold leaching process.
Cyanide is used to leach the gold from the land and the afterwards the cyanide remains creating great environmental concern. Contamination of the earth, the water, air, nuclear waste dumpage, nuclear testing, these are only a few of the listed major concerns of the Western Shoshone.
"Do you sell your birth rights, your beliefs for $8 billion. these mountains are sacred. Do you sell these? It can tell you about where you were, your history, and if you listen enough it can probably tell you where you're going."
She talked about the soldiers in Iraq fighting for democracy and asked "why don't they bring democracy here," "Where's my liberation."
For the second time the Western Shoshone representatives have met with the Geneva Convention, which consist of four treaties formulated in Geneva, Switzerland, that set the standards for international law for humanitarian concerns. Geneva Convention decided in support of the Western Shoshone sovereignty and territorial integrity. The U.S. is at fault.
The OAS, or Organization of American States, also an international group of the Americas supported the Western Shoshone in their efforts. And the U.S. was found guilty of inequality under the law in July 2006, and the U.S. government has never responded to this day.
For more information visit http://www.wdsp.org/.
On April 1st,there was a rally held at the nuclear test site outside of Las Vegas, and on April 6 at noon in San Francisco there is a rally for protecting sacred places. April 20-22 from 9 a.m. to 6.p.m. is the North American prepatory session for the U.S. Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues in Minneapolis, Minn. and on May 11-13, a Mother's day gathering and reunion with Corbin Harney is at the nuclear test site in Nevada.
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