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11 Indigenous Celebrities I Love


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In the US, today is Indigenous Peoples Day. Formerly known as Columbus Day, many folks have renamed the holiday given the atrocities that Christopher Columbus carried out against Native people. It’s also fitting to strip his name from the day because Columbus never set foot in North America. Despite what we were taught in schools, he actually landed in the Bahamas and made his way over several voyages to the island that’s now split into Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and to Central and South America.

As a Samoan woman, I also celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. Though my people come from the South Pacific, we too faced horrors in the name of colonization. So, I thought today would be the perfect time to celebrate some of my favorite Indigenous celebs from different parts of the world and share a little education and Native joy:

1.

Quannah Chasinghorse is an international supermodel and environmental activist. She is Hän Gwich’in on her mother’s side and Sicangu-Oglala Lakota on her father’s, but she was born and partially raised on Navajo Nation territory. Last year, she went viral on social media for attending the Met Gala — with the theme In America: A Lexicon of Fashion — while wearing accessories that paid homage to Navajo artists across the Southwest.

Quannah is passionate about deconstructing European beauty ideals because she knows firsthand how damaging they are to young girls. “I definitely struggled a lot growing up with my looks,” she told Allure. “I never thought that I was desirable or wanted or beautiful or anything like that because of very stereotypical beauty standards.” But now, she’s come to accept her Indigenous features and take pride in them.

2.

Taika Waititi is a Māori writer, actor, and director. I absolutely adore his movies set in Aotearoa (New Zealand), like Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, but he’s better known for his work in Jojo Rabbit, What We Do in the Shadows, and the Thor movies. He has this unique ability to bring his humor to every show/movie, and I love it.

When he became the first Māori person to win an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Jojo Rabbit in 2020, he said, “I dedicate this to all the Indigenous kids in the world who want to do art and dance and write stories. We are the original storytellers and we can make it here as well. Thank you. Kia ora.

3.

With over 4 million followers, Shina Novalinga is a TikToker who has gained fame by educating the world on Inuit culture and traditions. She is best known for the powerful videos where she and her mother throat sing — a practice that was nearly lost when Christian missionaries banned it in Canada in the early 20th century.

“There aren’t many women who know how to throat sing, but my mother is one of them,” Shina told enRoute. “She learned directly from a professional, an elder, someone who kept the culture alive and passed it down to younger generations. And now, to put it on social media, I feel like our voices — mine, my mother’s, and our people’s — are finally being heard. We want to throat sing for those who couldn’t.”

4.

With nearly 8 million followers on TikTok, Drew Afualo is famous for making fun of misogynistic losers and standing up for women everywhere. And she has this laugh that never fails to make me smile! I love how she never seems to take herself too seriously.

Drew credits her ability to dish and take jokes to her Samoan family. “We like to roast [and] make fun of each other because it’s fun, [not] because we hate each other. It’s nothing pointed or to make you insecure, it’s just for fun, [and] how I got good at roasting,” she told Teen Vogue.

5.

Benjamin Bratt’s been in a ton of stuff, like Law & Order and Coco, but I will always remember him as the handsome love interest from Miss Congeniality.

The actor’s mother is Quechua and was born in Peru. “I strongly identify with the Indigenous culture that I come from,” he told Esquire recently. “In 1969, my mother became active in the American Indian movement during the takeover of Alcatraz Island. My mother saw the Mohawk Native American leader Richard Oakes on the local PBS channel. He was saying, ‘Indians of all tribes come down and support our cause.'”

Throughout his career, Benjamin has remained an activist for Indigenous causes. He has supported the American Indian College Fund and organizations like the American Indian Friendship House and United Indian Nations.

6.

Tia Wood is a Cree and Salish TikToker who deconstructs European beauty standards and celebrates the music and dance of her peoples. She is currently working on an album, and I’m sooo excited for it!

“I grew up around a very musical family,” she told Complex. “Both of my parents are singers. All my aunties, uncles, and even my grandparents. It goes way back in the lineage. I always knew it was something I wanted to do, but I [also] knew I wanted to bring modern-day music into the picture. Having such a strong background with Indigenous music, I knew it had to intertwine somehow.”

7.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson may have started as a WWE star, but he’s now one of Hollywood’s highest paid actors. He’s been in a bunch of hits, like the Fast & Furious franchise, Jumanji movies, and Moana. And he’ll be Black Adam in the upcoming superhero movie!

I love how he incorporates his Samoan culture whenever he can. In Hobbs & Shaw, he performed a Siva Tau, which is a traditional war dance. During an interview on Live with Kelly and Ryan, he said, “It’s very intense, it’s very passionate, it’s very emotional. And even though you’re filming a movie, there’s preamble in Samoan where I’m calling on my ancestors for strength, and it’s just very real. You have goosebumps, some men are crying.”

8.

Princess Nokia is a rapper and songwriter who often defies genre. Much of her music is influenced by her heritage. She told Teen Vogue, “Being an Afro Indigenous woman is a large part of me, to the core. I celebrate it more than anything. We are trying to heal from that colonization, that slavery that our country suffered from. How does one heal 500 years of whitewashing, and rape, genocide, disease, suffering? One claims the beauty of their ancestors. Young people are the fearless voices of our ancestors.”

“Although I am a person and an artist who exemplifies Afro Indigenous identity, I don’t want to be the spokesperson for rediscovering identity, because my identity and others can be very different,” she continued. “My intersections as a privileged, lighter-skinned Afro Indigenous woman differs from other people. I am really glad that my art has opened a conversation for young people to rediscover and re-establish their Afro Indigenous identity and culture.”

9.

Jason Momoa is a Native Hawaiian actor who’s stolen my heart. He’s been in lots of cool stuff, like Game of Thrones, Aquaman, and Dune. But I actually love everything he does off screen even more.

Numerous times, he’s joined protestors fighting against the construction of a giant telescope atop Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain in the world (from its underwater base). He started Mananalu, an aluminum water bottle business, to combat ocean pollution. And in 2019, he gave a speech at the UN demanding immediate change to address climate change.

Despite becoming an A-list celebrity, he’s remained connected to his Native Hawaiian roots. He recently got a tattoo on his head in the traditional way (by tapping tools made of wood and bone into the skin). “Honored to be a part of this,” he wrote in an Instagram post. “Powerful moment in my life.”

10.

You probably know Nicole Scherzinger from the Pussycat Dolls, but she’s had some iconic hits as a solo artist too. After winning the 10th season of Dancing with the Stars, she served as a guest judge on X Factor — where we recently learned that she formed One Direction — and as a panelist on The Masked Singer. And she voiced Moana’s mom, Sina!

Nicole is super proud of her Native Hawaiian roots. She told the Inquirer, “I grew up in a family where my grandmother sang and always played the ukulele. My mother was a hula dancer. But we didn’t have the means or the money to help put me through classes or be taught any lessons. So, I think it’s a God-given gift. That’s the only way I knew how to express myself, because I was shy as a kid. Growing up, I just loved music.”

And during the Architectural Digest tour of her home, I was so happy to see she keeps items in her bookshelf to reflect her heritage, including her mother’s ‘ulī’ulī and an ipu (musical instruments often used in hula).

11.

And finally, James Jones — perhaps better known on social media as notoriouscree — is a traditional hoop dance artist of the Tallcree First Nation. He’s performed everywhere from the Olympics to powwows to the Sydney Opera House and is ranked among the top hoop dancers in the world. He educates his viewers on the different styles and meanings in Indigenous dances.

“I definitely would have loved to see more people like me growing up,” he told Complex. “I think it’s important for young people to see that there’s somebody like [them] who comes from a place [they] come from. Who’s been through the things [they’ve] been through, who are succeeding and doing well.”

Who is your favorite Indigenous celebrity/TikTok creator? LMK in the comments below!



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