November is Native American Heritage Month, but what you may not realize is that we celebrate people with Indigenous roots every day. There are lots of pop culture icons whose family trees trace back to an American Indian tribe. Check out this unexpected list of Native American celebrities, and find out which of the 574 Indian Nations they represent.
Angelina Jolie is known for her humanitarian efforts in every corner of the globe, but her own roots at home run deeper than most. The actress once revealed that her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, blessed her with Native American ancestry.
“My mom is as far from French Parisian as you can get,” Jolie told Allure in 1994. “She’s part Iroquois Indian, from Chicago. She grew up in a bowling alley that my grandparents owned.”
In 2005, Bertrand was an executive producer of a documentary about her boyfriend, the late poet and activist John Trudell. The couple later co-founded the All Tribes Foundation to benefit Native Americans (via NBC News.)
Hip hop fans know Kid Cudi as the rapper from Ohio whose career blew up in New York. But in July 2015, he discovered there’s more to his past than his parents’ African-American and Mexican-American sides.
“Recently discovered I am Yaqui Native American,” he tweeted. “Sick.”
The Yaqui are indigenous to Mexico and the southwest, and its American tribe is based in Tucson, Arizona. As of 2014, there were only 19,000 Yaqui, with roughly 5,000 living on the reservation.
Perhaps the reason Jimi Hendrix’s performances bordered on a spiritual experience is because he felt a strong connection to his Native American roots. According to the legendary musician’s sister, Janie L. Hendrix, Jimi’s great-grandmother Fanny Moore, was half Cherokee.
“I used to get so mad [at school], I didn’t even pay too much attention because of what the teachers were telling us. You know, ‘Indians are bad!'” Hendrix once said.
But as he grew older, he allowed his heritage to influence his iconic music. The tracks “I Don’t Live Today” and “Castles Made of Sand” were Native inspired songs, and Hendrix’s work earned him a posthumous exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian.
If America is a melting pot, Rosario Dawson is the very embodiment of that. The Sin City and Zombieland: Double Tap star is often mistaken for being half Black and half Caucasian, but in a 2013 tweet, she shared the specifics of her ethnicity with fans:
“I’m not biracial,” she wrote. “I’m half Puerto Rican/Afro Cuban & half Irish/Native Indian. #multiracial #human #earthling” (The latter half is from her biological father; however, the actress has never revealed which particular tribe he is connected to.)
With a maternal grandfather who had Cherokee lineage, singer-songwriter Tori Amos has long been inspired by her Native American ancestry.
“My experience with the Native American community has always been one of spiritual guidance,” Amos told Vanity Fair in 2020. “My sister’s been a part of [the Association of American Indian Physicians since 1982]. Before that, I only knew from my grandfather. So, it’s been something that I’ve held really sacred to me, and it’s a personal experience when they have shared their wisdom with me.”
We often associate Aquaman and Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa with his Native Hawaiian ancestry, but few people know that he also has Native American blood courtesy of his mother, who was born in Iowa. (Alas, he has no real ties to the Dothraki.)
“My grandmother has a small amount of Native in her,” he told Rotten Tomatoes in 2017. “She’s Pawnee, but when it gets to me, there’s little to nothing but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to bring justice to a lot of stories and a lot of things people don’t know about. It’s what I find interesting, the disenfranchised and people that don’t get to tell their story.”
Elvis is the pride of Mississippi, but genealogists have discovered that his family’s history in America predates the existence of the state.
According to the book Elvis and Gladys, the singer’s great-great-great grandmother was a “full-blooded Cherokee Indian” named Morning White Dove.
Presley’s granddaughter actress Riley Keough confirmed the claim in a 2018 tweet that read, “My dad is a little Irish but Mostly Jewish and my mom is Native American and Hillbilly.”
Who would have expected that Heather Locklear, the blue-eyed, blonde bombshell of Dynasty and Melrose Place, would have Native American and Black ancestry? According to PBS’ Frontline, the actress is of Lumbee descent on her father’s side. The tribe, which has approximately 55,000 members, is one of eight state-recognized Native American tribes in North Carolina.
Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis is the ultimate Californian (by way of Michigan), but dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that he’s another superstar with Native American ancestry.
According to Lords of the Sunset Strip, an autobiography by his father John Kiedis (aka Black Dammett), his grandmother was “a symphony French Canadian, English, Irish, Algonquin Native American, and [Netherlandic].”
Perhaps this influenced him to approve the name Everly Bear for his son.
“The mama came up with Bear,” John told People. “That made sense to me because he’s from me and I feel like I’m part of the bear clan, and I think it’s nice to have a little bit of earth in your name.”
In an interview with the New York Times, Walker, Texas Ranger star Chuck Norris revealed that he grew up in poverty with a Cherokee father and Irish mother. Although his peers sadly picked on him for his background, he managed to turn his pain into fame.
“There were taunts by kids about being a half-breed,” Mr. Norris said. “I had very low self-esteem. And I used to daydream about being strong and being able to handle myself. To beat up the bullies.”
Norris began to take up martial arts and the rest is history.
Forrest Goodluck, whose breakout role was in 2015’s The Revenant, is a win for Native American representation. The 23-year-old is predominantly Navajo, but with links to the Hidatsa, Manda,n and Tsimshian tribes as well. He says his background has helped lend credibility to his various acting roles–most of which focus on the modern lives of indigenous people.
“I’m fortunate to be multi tribal, so I have this insight into different tribes,” he told The Guardian in 2018.
Goodluck’s success is a far cry from the days of previous generations.
“Whenever [my grandmother] saw Indians in movies, even if it was a white dude acting like an Indian, her generation is proud of that,” said Goodluck. “In a world where Indians were mythical and not even recognised, any moment of recognition is an amazing thing.”