Natives, Let's Put Our Money Where Our Mouths Are: Support Tatanka Means in 'Tiger Eyes'

Gyasi Ross writes about Tatanka Means, co-star of the new film Tiger Eyes, based on the young adult novel by Judy Blume

I’ve heard many Natives complain, time and time again, about the lack of Native imagery in pop culture. If we want to see Natives within the mainstream, we don’t have a lot of choices. We used to could look forward to seeing the lovely and funny Elaine Miles showing up every week in Northern Exposure. Now? There’s not a lot. I mean, thank God for Adam Beach. He stays consistent—constantly making new product. Other than Adam, we’ve been pretty much left to cheer for John Redcorn screwing the white dude’s wife on King of the Hill and/or to pretend Jonny Depp is really an Indian. Alternatively, a few folks like to argue about Indian mascots, as if most Native people are actually concerned about this topic. Still, those folks see this as an important usage of their time because sports are, indeed, another time that many people see Native images.

Yo Gyasi, what do you mean 'new guy'?

But as for seeing Natives, it’s pretty slim pickings. Therefore, some Natives become so desperately thirsty to see us on TV, we start making up Indian people, like mirages in the desert. “You know that she’s part Indian, ennit?” Some examples of illusory Indians are Lou Diamond Phillips, Jonny Depp, Val Kilmer, etc…there were plenty before the current imposters too—Iron Eyes Cody, Chief Jay Strongbow, Burt Reynolds, etc…

But we have some good news; there is a new guy. Yes, you heard right: there is a new young and talented Native actor we can cheer and support, in addition to Adam and John Redcorn. This young man is now officially "mainstream"; his name is Tatanka Means. He has a big movie that came out on Friday called Tiger Eyes, based upon Judy Blume’s book (remember Superfudge?), and the movie and he are both getting some really good reviews.

“The gamechanger for Davey is meeting Martin (Tatanka Means), a Native American known as Wolf. He calls her Tiger. And their romantic connection is handled with rare delicacy by both actors. Wolf is also dealing with sorrow, his father Willie is battling cancer in a local hospital. That Willie is played by Russell Means, the noted political activist and Tatanka's real-life father, brings their scenes together a touching gravity. That Russell Means died shortly after filming is beyond reckoning.” Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Billy Wirth: Look at how mystically Indian I am.

Tatanka is a stud. A long-haired, bushy-braided, pow-wow dancing, cow-roping, rez-boy stud. He’s not a Hollywood Indian who walks around with his hair hanging loose and egregious amounts of leather on (I call it the “Billy Wirth” syndrome—how many Native men actually wear their hair like that except when they’re trying to impress upon white people how mystically Indian they are?).

No, no, he is the real deal. He is one of us. He is a Native person I would love for my son to emulate. He “gets it.” We need to support him as he supports our communities. He’s starred, for free, in tons of small-time productions for independent Native filmmakers. Whether it’s helping out at ceremonies or speaking to Native youth or helping small-time filmmakers, he’s constantly available for our communities.

Tatanka Means with Willa Holland in 'Tiger Eyes.'

Now, we should likewise be available for our Native folks who do well and serve our communities. We have to support our people—they gotta know that when they take a leap of faith, we will be there to help. This is a perfect opportunity.

Please take your family to go see Tiger Eyes. Or download it from iTunes for $14.95. Support talented and hard-working Native artists. Support Tatanka Means. Love Native people better—love ourselves better.

Tatanka Means with Willa Holland in 'Tiger Eyes.'

Gyasi Ross
Blackfeet Nation Enrolled/Suquamish Nation Immersed
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi