'Strong hearts to the front. Indigenous women are resilient'

Vincent Schilling

Tantoo Cardinal: “Sue Lynn Blackbird is a strong woman” and a portrayal of a character that is “right in my territory.”

Tantoo Cardinal's acting career spans nearly fifty years. Her resume’ lists over 120 films, television series and theatrical productions in the entertainment industry.

One of her latest successful gigs is on ABC’s Stumptown, a show with a prime time slot where Cardinal plays an intimidating casino boss and tribal leader Sue Lynn Blackbird. This is a woman capable of staring down the most precarious of characters — all done as she carelessly knits a scarf for a loved one.

Tantoo Cardinal as Sue Lynn Blackbird meets with Michael Ealy as Detective Miles Hoffman, and Camryn Manheim as Lieutenant Cosgrove in ABC's 'Stumptrown.' Photo: ABC

The show is based on the graphic novel by George Rukas and centers on the main character, Dex Parios (portrayed by Cobie Smulders) a female former Marine who becomes a private investigator, “

Sue Lynn Blackbird is a strong woman” and a portrayal of a character that is “right in my territory.”

“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” said Cardinal.

Cardinal also released public statements regarding her role in Stumptown regarding Indigenous representation fighting stereotypes what it was like sitting next to Wes Studi when he received an Oscar.

“Representation is sorely needed – we’re beyond it as a first step,” said Cardinal in the statement. “As an actor, I want to be a part of productions that tell our stories, to create my own place of incubation that allows me and our actors to create and build their artistic strengths. The discussions of parity have not crossed over to Indigenous women. We’ve existed in Hollywood and told many stories through words and narrative and emotions on screen…from the periphery mostly. So, while we have not had recognition, I believe that the industry is now primed to be more inclusive of diverse voices and this includes the voices of Indigenous women. I am excited for the opportunities that are ahead.

“For the Indigenous actress in the world of Hollywood, in my opinion, we have to take advantage of every opportunity that we have to have the dialogue and to tell the truth about who we are as a people,” said Cardinal.

Stumptown cast
The cast of 'Stumptown' photo: ABC/Matthias Clamer

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On Sunday, October 27, in Los Angeles, Cardinal was with Wes Studi when he received an honorary Oscar at the Governors’ Awards. Cardinal co-starred with Studi in the Oscar-winning film Dances with Wolves in 1990.

“When Wes received his award I was standing there, smiling and clapping for him – for his achievement, it was a magnificent moment for him. To have one of our pivotal Indigenous actors honored at last. We are becoming more visible – but as an Indigenous actress, we still have a way to go,” said Cardinal, 69. “I was thinking about who we are, what we have to offer, and about the industry’s long history of male dominance. I will have been in the industry for coming up on 50 years, and I’m hoping that we – Indigenous actors AND actresses – will one day be recognized for our legacy.”

“I’m from a mixed culture in Canada. I identify with four Nations: Cree, Dene, Nakota, and Métis. The language that I grew up with was mostly Cree and Michif. I learned later about my Nakota heritage, which is Lakota and Cree blend, and I was raised as a Métis. So, my career has been about all of those stories.

“Identifying with all four ways means I’ve had to fight through those stereotypes. For my legacy, I really want to be able to help bring those stories out with our young people. To create a place of comfort for them in identifying their path and telling those stories - a school.” said Cardinal.

Cardinal remarked about her character, Sue Lynn Blackbird.

“Some call her sinister, some, bad-assed. At this point, it depends on the direction. I like playing that edge and leaving it to the audience to determine. It’s thrilling to play a strong female in charge, a female tribal leader, who has purpose and integrity-driven to protect and provide for her tribe. She leads with integrity, but she is also cunning in her approach, which is exciting to play someone who has the intellect and veracity to lead and command respect.

“In a way, it’s an opportunity to see where our old ideas fall away of Indigenous women leaders in the tribe and what the new vision is,” said Cardinal.

Tantoo Cardinal
Tantoo Cardinal. Photo: ABC

“From my perspective, our strength and our comeback and our healing is primarily through our culture. We’ve been silenced for generations. It’s not as if it’s been swept under the rug as much as the rug’s been placed on top of us. Society has walked all over us without even paying any attention. People have not recognized that. We’ve had to rescue our pride from the hands of our oppressors and the colonialists. That’s my perspective,” said Cardinal.

“Strong hearts to the front. Indigenous women are resilient.”

“Stumptown” can be seen on Wednesday nights (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST) on ABC. Episodes can also be viewed the next day on ABC.com, the ABC app, and Hulu. More info at https://abc.com/shows/stumptown

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Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling and Instagram - @VinceSchilling

Email - vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com

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