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50 Faces, Part VIII: Waln, Thunder, Halbritter, Campbell, Bedard

Notable Native Americans from the 50 Faces of Indian Countty: Frank Waln, Stacey Thunder, Ray Halbritter, Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Irene Bedard
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This list of the 2015 50 Faces of Indian Country is a microcosm of Indian country itself, being a collection of notables from all fields. It's also, in its jumbled glory, representative of Indian country's family spirit. Here, a rapper and an actress rub elbows with a U.S. Senator and a captain of business; a journalist, who has likely reported on all four of them, completes the quintet. All my relations, as they say. 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.

Frank Waln

Photo: Melinda Jane Myers Photography

Frank Waln

Frank Waln, Sicangu Lakota, is a hip-hop artist and environmental activist. In 2014, he was the subject of the MTV series Rebel Music for its episode on Native American musicians who use music to raise awareness about issues plaguing Indian country. A recipient of the 40 Under 40 Award by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, Waln tours the country performing his music and evangelizing for the rights of indigenous peoples, proclaiming that they are the stewards of the land. Waln is also widely known as one of the leading Native American voices against the Keystone XL Pipeline; last year, he performed alongside music legends Willie Nelson and Neil Young at a concert to galvanize opposition to the pipeline. He says his early musical influences ranged from Robbie Robertson to Eminem and Nas, as well as the Sundance songs and going to ceremonies.

Stacey Thunder

Photo: Cameron Pashak

Stacey Thunder

Journalist and actress Stacey Thunder, Red Lake and Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe, has been telling contemporary stories from Indian country for over a decade. In 2004, she began her job as host of the PBS weekly news magazine Native Report, a mix of news and lifestyle reporting that spotlighted an astonishing variety of topics and people during its 10-year run. Embracing the DIY spirit of the Internet, she’s now launched her own series, Indigenous With Stacey Thunder, on YouTube. “For too long our people have been treated unfairly and negatively portrayed, and I’d love to help change that,” Thunder says. She’s also an attorney, and an accomplished actress, having most recently appeared in The Jingle Dress with Chaske Spencer and Kimberly Guerrero.

Ray Halbritter

Photo courtesy Oneida Indian Nation

Ray Halbritter

In 2003, Harvard Law School announced the establishment of The Oneida Indian Nation Professorship of Law, its first endowed chair in American Indian Studies, and the only professorship of its kind on the East Coast. The endowment is not the Nation’s only connection with this prestigious school. Ray Halbritter, a former ironworker and now CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprises for three-plus decades, was a Harvard Law graduate. Under his leadership, the Nation has experienced a ragsto-riches transformation driven by its Turning Stone Resort Casino, its SavOn chain of gas station/convenience stores and a multi-media operation that includes ICTMN. The Nation, on Halbritter’s initiative, also sponsored the “True Spirit of Thanksgiving” – the first American Indian-sponsored float in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, donated $10 million to the National Museum of the American Indian, and launched the nationwide Change the Mascot media blitz against the offensive name for Washington’s NFL team.

Ben Nighthorse Campbell

Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Ben Nighthorse Campbell

In 1992, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Northern Cheyenne, became the first Native American to serve in the U.S. Senate in more than 60 years. Before entering politics, Campbell was a fruit picker and fought in the Korean War. He won a judo gold medal in the Pan-American Games in 1963 and was captain of the U.S. judo team at the Tokyo Olympics. In 1986 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and was re-elected three times before moving on to the Senate. In D.C., he was a key player in laws settling Native American water rights disputes, won the fight to change the name of Custer Battlefield Monument in Montana to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, and was instrumental in establishing the National Museum of the American Indian. Campbell left Congress in 2004, and became a lobbyist. He is also an award-winning designer of Native American jewelry. 

Irene Bedard

Photo © Bob Hallinen/Alaska Dispatch News

Irene Bedard

In the ‘90s, Irene Bedard (Inupiat/Yup’ik/Cree) did two things that endeared her to two mostly-separate viewerships. She provided the voice of the title character for Disney’s successful animated feature Pocahontas, but that film never won any awards for historical accuracy. It was her performance as Suzy Song in Smoke Signals three years later that established her as one of Indian country’s favorite actresses. She’s most recently been seen playing May Stillwater on Longmire, and was one of the guiding talents in Songs My Brothers Taught Me, a drama filmed on Pine Ridge with many first-time actors that screened at the Sundance Film Festival. But these days Bedard has new frontiers to explore with her production company Sleeping Lady Films Waking Giants Productions. The company produces chef Freddie Bitsoie’s show Rezervations Not Required, and earlier this year Bedard announced she plans to make a movie of the 1993 novel Two Old Women by Gwich’in author Velma Wallis.