The acknowledgement of Native American heritage has a curious history in the United States.
Some famous people including former President Bill Clinton (D-Arkansas), Cher, Burt Reynolds, and British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill made false or questionable claims of Native American ancestry. Conversely, many famous Americans have downplayed or hid their First Nations heritage.
Hence, there are many famous people whose Native American heritage you are unaware of. Some Native American celebrities you may not have been aware of include:
The King of Rock n’ Roll was of partial Cherokee ancestry. Elvis’s maternal great-great-grand mother was a Cherokee woman named Morning White Dove.
Culturally, Elvis was a proud white Southerner with a multiracial heritage. Elvis rarely talked of his family’s heritage but, the King played Native Americans in at least two movies.
Strangely, the founder of the great American art of stand up comedy was not Jewish. Instead, the first person to became famous through a stand up routine was Will Rogers a member of the Cherokee nation.
The blonde-haired blue-eyed Rogers was a rodeo cowboy who became a superstar by adding jokes to his rope-twirling Vaudeville act. Rogers added jokes because he noticed that his rope tricks bored New York audiences.
In the act, Rogers became the first comic to attract attention by commenting on politics and mocking political figures. Rogers set another precedent by using comedy to promote his political causes, including the organization of an independent US Air Force and the Democratic Party.
Rogers went onto become the nation’s most influential pundit by leveraging the new medium of radio. In addition, Rogers became the first stand-up comic to become a movie star.
Rogers never made a secret of his heritage and often complained of anti-Native racism in one of the most racist eras in American history – the 1920s. Yet he became a national hero, possibly because of his Southern accent.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Garner became famous as an all American leading man.
He was also one of the first TV stars to enjoy crossover success as a movie star. In the 1970s, Garner reinvented himself as a TV showrunner helping to bring the ground breaking Rockford Files to the small screen.
Garner’s mother Mildred Meek Bumgarner was Cherokee and Garner named his production company Cherokee Productions. In one TV movie, Garner’s classic private detective Jim Rockford, reveals he is one-quarter Cherokee. However, it nobody knows if Garner was a member of the Cherokee Nation.
Garner was just as proud of his German-American heritage and his Oklahoma roots as his native ancestry. He was born James Scott Bumgarner.
Yes, America’s most famous martial artist has Cherokee ancestry on both sides of his family. Norris’s paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather were flood-blooded Cherokees.
Norris was the first Westerner given the rank of Eighth Degree Black Belt Grandmaster Tae Kwon Do. A former Middleweight Professional Karate Champion and Karate School owner. Norris started acting in the 1960s at the urging of another movie legend Steve McQueen, a former Karate student.
Norris became a movie star in B action pictures in the 1980s, and a TV star with the corny Walker Texas Ranger in the 1990s. Chuck also created his own martial art Chun Kuk Do and holds the title of America’s toughest man.
Despite his fame, Norris rarely discusses his native heritage. Instead, the actor is a superpatriot whose major cause is backing the US military and helping its veterans.
Strangely, most of the Native American celebrities downplayed their native heritage. Elvis, in particular, never mentioned it. Meanwhile, such stars as Cher and Burt Reynolds made public (and apparently false) claims of native heritage.
Paradoxically, real Native Americans often ignore or downplay their heritage while others publicly celebrate false native heritage.