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50 Faces, Part VI: Gong, Martin, Stanhoff, Beach, Kilcher

More of the 2015 50 Faces of Indian Country, featuring Louie Gong, VaRene Martin, Tracy Stanhoff, Adam Beach, and Q'orianka Kilcher.
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Our look at the 2015 50 Faces of Indian Country continues! This group of five includes individuals who embody entrepreneurship, education and achievement in acting, among other traits. And as always, there's a common thread: Natives who look out for Natives. These profiles were included in a special issue of our weekly e-newsletter; for the growing archive, check out The 2015 50 Faces of Indian Country.

Louie Gong

Photo: Ken Yu for 8th Generation

Louie Gong

Louie Gong says he grew up mixed, with strong ties to his father’s Nooksack and Chinese culture. Today, as a professional, he’s still mixed – Gong represents artistic talent, entrepreneurship and a helping hand for his people, all at the same time. His signature product is his hand-drawn custom shoes, but he’s put his designs on skateboards, shower curtains, cell phone cases, pillows and now, blankets. His company, Eighth Generation, isn’t simply a showcase for his skills; within the last year, he’s launched Inspired Natives, a program that helps Native artists build their entrepreneurial acumen and get their products to market. “Inspired Natives” is an inversion of “Native inspired,” a detested euphemism for appropriations and knockoffs. The artists he’s taken on “are capable of anything and hungry for ways to make their cultural art more sustainable,” Gong says. “The challenge is that the business experience and capital needed to get something started is largely absent in our communities.”

VaRene Martin

photo courtesy VaRene Martin

VaRene Martin

VaRene Martin, who attended Oklahoma State University, and is now based in San Diego, has been tireless in her efforts to educate tribal communities about the role finance plays in fostering economic opportunities in Indian country. She is the first vice president of Native American Finance Officers Association, and brings more than 20 years of experience in the investment industry to her role in establishing a relationship between tribes and the NAFOA. In an interview with ICTMN, Martin, Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Thlopthlocco Tribal Town, explained why she has been so diligent in her work for fellow Natives. “NAFOA and its continued success has been one of my passions. I have proudly told NAFOA’s story as I travel throughout Indian country, encouraging the tribes to use the education that NAFOA offers to build the financial strength of tribal governments and their enterprises. It is truly a blessing to be a member of this board.”

Tracy Stanhoff

photo courtesy Tracy Stanhoff

Tracy Stanhoff

As president of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of California, Tracy Stanhoff is breaking down barriers that prevent Native American businesses from achieving success. Under her leadership, the AICCC provides educational support, mentoring, networking and advocacy for more than 38,000 Indian-owned ventures in California. In the last year, in partnership with the Verizon Foundation, Stanhoff (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation/Choctaw Nation) helped set up a $25,000 grant to assist Indian country’s businesses increase business capacity through the use of technology in training workshops. In an op-ed on ICTMN’s website, Stanhoff explained how she believes Native American businesses can and should succeed. “The goals are simply to get business back to our own – and there is plenty of business for us all. It is very simple: Keep more of our money in Indian country. Be open-minded, overcome petty politics, stop the rhetoric and just ‘Buy Native!’”

Adam Beach

Photo: Pat Kane Photo

Adam Beach

Actors looking to make a career in Hollywood should take note of Adam Beach’s path – for the Salteaux movie and TV star, the keyword is balance. Beach has really done it all. One cannot find two more opposite Native American characters than Ira Hayes, from the ultra-serious historical drama Flags of Our Fathers, and Kicking Wing, from the ultra-stupid David Spade comedy Joe Dirt. On TV, Beach proved himself an asset on the network series Law & Order: SVU, the HBO series Big Love and the Canadian-TV series Arctic Air. We all know what pays the bills in Hollywood today – summer blockbusters, and Beach has scored one of those: Suicide Squad, coming August 2016, in which he plays the supervillain Slipknot. When he’s not in front of the camera, Beach works to bring pop-up movie theaters to remote Canadian reserves.

Q'orianka Kilcher

photo: Kainoa Kilcher for On-Q

Q'orianka Kilcher

In the 2005 film The New World, directed by Terrence Malick, Q’orianka Kilcher played Pocahontas, and won recognition as the breakthrough performance of the year from the National Board of Review. The Quechua actress was back in 2009, headlining Princess Kaiulani, a film based on the life of the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Kilcher again tells a story of a strong Indigenous woman this year in Te Ata, a film about a Chickasaw cultural hero, the storyteller Te Ata Fisher; the film was shot on location in Oklahoma and produced by the Chickasaw Nation. When not making movies, Kilcher is a tireless advocate for environmental and indigenous causes, lending her time and celebrity visibility to Amnesty International, International Forum on Globalization, Amazon Watch and other activist organizations.