Following years of campaigning by Native Americans for federal recognition, President Joe Biden issued the first presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which he declared would be observed on October 11 in honor of America’s first inhabitants.
“Since time immemorial, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians have built vibrant and diverse cultures — safeguarding land, language, spirit, knowledge, and tradition across the generations,” a White House proclamation release from Biden said.
Although Indigenous Peoples’ Day will be celebrated on the same date as Columbus Day, Biden acknowledged the atrocities inflicted on Indigenous communities by European explorers in another proclamation and urged the country not to try and bury “shameful episodes of our past.”
“For Native Americans, western exploration ushered in a wave of devastation: violence perpetrated against Native communities, displacement and theft of Tribal homelands, the introduction and spread of disease, and more,” a White House proclamation from Biden said. “On this day, we recognize this painful past and recommit ourselves to investing in Native communities, upholding our solemn and sacred commitments to Tribal sovereignty, and pursuing a brighter future centered on dignity, respect, justice, and opportunity for all people.”
Fall is a season heavily defined by visible transitions and change. As the earth prepares itself for winter, we get to witness a clear shift in the world around us.
Socially, I believe that is especially true this year. As our country continues to transition following the height, fall and resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic, industries and society are looking forward to a future not defined by the struggles of the past (almost) year and half.
The Latino community, which was hit harder than almost any other, is especially taking the opportunity to move forward with renewed vigor and determination into the future. In this issue, we at Hispanic Network Magazine, are choosing to honor the changemakers of the community who share that vision.
We are also honored to showcase our Native American Special Issue as well.
Better education about and more prevalent representation of Native American and Alaska Native tribes and cultures has to become something we all fight for in our country, like our cover story actor Gil Birmingham.
Known for his iconic acting across multiple television programs as well as films, most notably his work in the hugely popular The Twilight Saga as Billy Black, a member of the Quileute tribe in La Push, Wash, he’s now mainly recognized for playing a very different character, Chief Thomas Rainwater, of the hit series Yellowstone.
Birmingham is a strong advocate for better representation of Native peoples in media and spreading discourse about their place in the American landscape. “I couldn’t be happier that there’s a Native American that’s portrayed in an educated and powerful way. That’s more realistic of what our community does have to offer,” he shared.
Read more about this longtime television and film icon on page 50.
Let’s also talk about the dangers of miseducation regarding Native American culture and its impact on American history after reading our interview with Cheryl Crazy Bull, president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund on page 88 as well as the “Power of Hispanic Inclusion in the Workplace” on page 42.
As part of our LGBTQ+ Special, read about Germain Arroyo, the gay, nonbinary actor changing the representation game in Hollywood on page 108.
For over a year, it feels like we have taken a step back in more ways than one, but there is still, and always will be, hope for the future. Let’s continue to walk together, hand-in-hand, as we choose to progress further with one another into a better tomorrow.
It seems like everyone is talking about “Yellowstone,” Paramount Network’s hit series.
John Dutton. Beth. Kaycee. Rip Wheeler. And Chief Thomas Rainwater, played by renowned actor Gil Birmingham.
It’s the role of a lifetime. And an important one.
“I couldn’t be happier that there’s a Native American that’s portrayed in an educated and powerful way.
That’s more realistic of what our community does have to offer,” Birmingham has stated.
Birmingham said there are more opportunities than ever for Native-Americans to play genuine, complex characters, and that Hollywood is doing a much better job of avoiding stereotypes. What is particularly intriguing about playing Rainwater, he said, is that the chief of a reservation near the Dutton ranch in Montana is a contemporary character. “Yellowstone” is not a period piece.
Birmingham said the show’s creator, Taylor Sheridan, deserves plenty of credit. “I knew Taylor would have a sensitivity with the Native world because he had a lot of interaction with them in his younger life,” he said.
A Body of Talent
Gil Birmingham, of Comanche ancestry, was born in San Antonio, Texas. His family moved frequently during his childhood because of his father’s career in the military. He learned to play the guitar at an early age and considers music his first love.
After obtaining a bachelor of science degree from the University of Southern California, he worked as a petrochemical engineer. He knew that wasn’t what he wanted to do long-term; in fact, he was pursuing a side-career in bodybuilding.
That’s how he was discovered. A talent scout pegged him for a Diana Ross music video. The Motown icon had hit the charts once again, this time with “Muscles.”
Next was a gig at Universal Studios, where he played Conan on the theme park’s newest attraction: “The Adventures of Conan: A Sword and Sorcery Spectacular.”
Birmingham made his television debut on an episode of the series “Riptide.” By 2002, he had a recurring role as the character Oz in the medical drama “Body & Soul,” starring Peter Strauss. In 2005, he was cast as the older Dogstar in the Steven Spielberg six-part miniseries “Into the West.”
He has appeared in a number of television series, including “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Veronica Mars,” “10 Items or Less,” “Nip/Tuck,” “Castle,” “The Mentalist,” “House of Cards” and the “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” He has also had roles in several television films.
In 2008, Birmingham landed the role of Billy Black in “The Twilight Saga” film series. It’s what he was most famous for before “Yellowstone.” Now, the two might be neck-and-neck.
“Yellowstone,” which is set to start its fourth season in the fall, centers on the Dutton family, most notably, no-nonsense patriarch John Dutton (Kevin Costner). The sixth-generation homesteader and devoted father must juggle running the largest contiguous ranch in the United States and dealing with a family full of problems. Land developers, an energy company and a tribal reservation have eyes on a massive swath of Dutton’s land.
Birmingham’s Thomas Rainwater is a complicated man. He was not raised on a reservation and believed he was of Mexican descent until he was 18 and saw his adoption papers. That was, obviously, pivotal for him. He earned a master of businesses administration from Harvard. He is now chairman of the Confederate Tribes of Broken Rock. He is usually the smartest guy in the room.
And he wants Dutton’s land or, as he bluntly states in the show, he wants to take back what rightfully belongs to the tribes, meaning he wants to expand the Broken Rock Reservation and keep outsiders as far away as possible.
His relationship with Costner’s John Dutton makes for must-watch TV. On one hand, the two have little in common. Rainwater is Native American. Dutton is White. Rainwater and his tribes have, over the centuries, been robbed of land, resources, wealth.
Dutton is a product of generational wealth and, yes, hard work too.
On the other hand, they’re both shrewd, true to their causes, even respectful. And they’re both unflappable; it’s hard to know what they’re going to do until they do it.
“I think Taylor so brilliantly established a character that’s empowered with education, and a means by which he can operate within the guidelines of a system that’s been structured, and empowered that character, to be able to operate and reclaim the resources that have belonged to him for centuries,” Birmingham said.
It takes a great actor to play a worthy foe of the legendary Costner, but Birmingham is pulling it off.
Here are two of his more memorable statements to John Dutton, astensions between the two rise:
— “Nothing we say here is going to change our goals. Our paths will always collide. We fight. One of us will win. But you’ve been a good enemy, John. A fair enemy”;
— “I will erase you from the future… see, I’m the opposite of progress, John. I’m the past catching up to you.”
“Yellowstone’s” Facebook page has a thread that starts with the question, “What is your favorite Thomas Rainwater moment from Season 3?
Wrote Dianne Montgomery Hocut: “I’ve enjoyed watching Thomas Rainwater scene where he is in full ceremonial headgear and dress. He has achieved honor, wisdom and power of many. Just fits him!”
Birmingham, who recently turned 68, continues to be a steadfast advocate of Native American rights. In a case, perhaps, of life imitating art, on June 25 he retweeted the Lakota Law Project (@lakotalaw): “The U.S. Department of Interior announced Wednesday the restoration of more than 18,800 acres of land, known as the National Bison Range, so it can be returned to Indigenous tribes in Montana.”
Native Americans in Hollywood and Native Americans in society have come a long way.
Birmingham mirrors that progress. No longer is he relegated to period-piece, revisionist roles. He has become one of the most authentic and powerful Native American voices on television, which he uses as a launchpad for his activism.
“I feel a responsibility to represent a Native character who has that strength and determination,” he told IndianCountryToday.com, “that all of our ancestors, that survived what they have survived, and then to put in the context of a contemporary piece with that soul to come to it, and based on trying to do everything that he can for his people, for his rez.”