About the Author
Sam Crowfoot was born in Utah and raised on an Indian reservation in Alberta, Canada. He graduated from Brigham Young University and the University of Wisconsin Law School. He is deadly from three-point range and shoots photography on the side. He lives in the Phoenix area with his wife and four children.

Why Leonardo DiCaprio’s Golden Globes Speech Will Go Down In History

The 73rd Annual Golden Globes Awards Ceremony was a big night in Hollywood.

“A” list celebrities were out in force anxious to see who the winners and losers would be in what is often thought as the Oscar’s most reliable prognosticator.

Millions tuned in to see the likes of Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Schumer and Matt Damon glammed up, decked out and walking the red carpet smiling for the cameras.

But what made the night bigger than awards, terrible jokes and fashion faux pas’ was that in his acceptance speech for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, for his role in The Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio did something not done since 1973.

When DiCaprio accepted his award, he paid tribute and respect to the Indigenous people around the world and brought attention to their issues:

I want to share this award with all the First Nations people represented in this film and all the Indigenous communities around the world,” DiCaprio said. “It is time that we recognized your history and that we protect your indigenous lands from corporate interests and people that are out there to exploit them. It is time that we heard your voice and protected this planet for future generations.”

WATCH: Leonardo DiCaprio Golden Globes speech

For those unaware, First Nations is a term used to reference the people in Canada once termed Indians. In the United States, the term is Native American.

What made DiCaprio’s speech special was that this was the first time since 1973 an important Hollywood actor during a major award ceremony acknowledged the serious issues that Native Americans and First Nation people are facing.

The first one to do it was Marlon Brando- sort of.

In 1973, Brando won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role in The Godfather. Instead of accepting the award, Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather, a Native American actress and activist, in his stead to stage a protest and refuse the award because of the treatment of American Indians by the film and television industries during the protests at Wounded Knee, SD.

Watch: Sacheen Littlefeather refuses to accept Marlon Brando’s 1973 Oscar for Best Actor. 

In refusing the award, Brando brought much needed attention to the struggles of Native Americans who were suffering in an era of corrupt government, severe racism, extreme poverty and crime rates resulting in the lowest life expectancy rates in the nation.

Fast-forward forty-three years, DiCaprio picked up where Brando left off.

In sharing his award with First Nations and Indigenous communities, DiCaprio addressed two very important issues: 1) Recognizing the importance of Indigenous history (a topic I have written on before) and 2) Protecting indigenous lands from attack by corporations.

There are few things more important to First Nations and Native Americans alike than their history and land.

Paramount to mankind’s physical survival is his connection to the Earth.

Paramount to mankind’s physical survival is his connection to the Earth. Tribes on both sides of the border teach that the Earth is our sacred mother and that mankind, as her children have a duty to protect her.

With respect to cultural survival, Tribal nations teach their traditions and customs orally from grandparent to grandchild through songs and stories. Cultural survival is only possible when accurate history is taught and protected.

DiCaprio’s speech – like Brando’s protest – comes at an appropriate time where Indigenous culture and land are under attack.

Native cultural survival has been threatened due to years of cultural extermination tactics designed to solve the “Indian Problem” such as the Indian Boarding School systems in both the United States, and Canada. The effects of these efforts to assimilate the “savage” and are still felt across Native communities today.

Since 1492, Native North American lands have always been under threat from government and corporate invaders.

Legislation such as the Dawes Allotment Act, an appalling piece of U.S. legislation, removed land from Native American tribes and unjustly gave ownership to non-natives.

More recently Indigenous lands are threatened by the Keystone pipeline project, fracking in the Dakotas, crude oil extraction of the Alberta oil sands and the suspiciously-passed Oak Flat copper mining legislation in Arizona to name a few.

And while it was cool to hear DiCaprio – the man who has played Howard Hughes, J. Edgar Hoover, Jack from Titanic and even the Wolf of Wall Street give a shout out to a portion of the population that is both misrepresented and underrepresented in film and pop culture – DiCaprio’s words were more than just a “Hi Mom!” moment on television.

DiCaprio’s speech signifies that some very important people in the world are aware of the struggles of Indigenous people. DiCaprio inspired many to keep fighting a fight that if won will yield benefits for Natives and non-Natives alike.

It’s not easy to do what DiCaprio did. Taking a political stand has the potential to ruin Hollywood careers. Littlefeather was an aspiring actress whose career never really got off the ground due in part to her speech at the 1973 Oscars.

But unlike Littlefeather and Brando, the reception to DiCaprio’s words seemed more positive, and even though the orchestra tried to play DiCaprio off the stage he kept speaking until we heard what he had to say.

In a world that has literally tried to exterminate Native Americans and First Nations alike, DiCaprio’s words injected a shot of hope, energy and pride to a people trying to stay true to their values.

All the best to you this award season Mr. DiCaprio, thank you for what you have said and may you finally win the Oscar you deserve.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for you us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: Fights Fights and Fights/Youtube (Screengrab)


Atlantic Magazine Listed The “100 Most Influential Figures In American History” And Didn’t Put A Single Native American On The List

The other day while browsing Facebook I came across a 2006 piece from the Atlantic titled, “The 100 Most Influential Figures in American History.” It was being promoted by the magazine with a Facebook ad buy.

I clicked on the post and found that the Atlantic asked ten “eminent historians” (their words, not mine) to select 100 of the most influential people to shape American history. As I clicked through the list I realized that there was not a single Native American mentioned.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a reservation-raised, fully enrolled, card-carrying Native American (yes, we have cards, they are called Certificates of Indian Blood or CIB).

I am also an attorney, husband and father of young children. Like most parents, I am concerned about the world my children will grow up in. I pay attention to things that have the power to influence their lives. I notice when Native Americans make appearances in books, news stories and film. I also notice when we are omitted, ignored or forgotten about completely, which was the case for The Atlantic’s piece on the 100 most influential people in American history.

When you only ask people from a certain demographic to weigh in on an issue, you get biased results that reflect a limited point of view. American history is considerably more than what white people think.

So who cares right? It’s a stupid list, my children will probably never see it and no one really thinks about posts like these longer than five minutes, right? Wrong. I scrolled away and moved on, or at least tried.

In my attempt to move forward, a flurry of questions kept bringing me back to this list. “Where was Sitting Bull? Crazy Horse? Jim Thorpe? Why did PT Barnum, the circus guy make the list and not Chief Joseph or Tecumseh?”

To be sure, I re-read the list a few more times and noted how many were male and female and noted the race of each person mentioned.

Here is the count for those keeping score: 90 = male, 10 = female, 92 = White/Caucasian, 8 = Black/African, 0 = Latino, 0 = Asian and 0 = Native American.

Maybe I am sensitive to this topic because I am Native American. I definitely can’t change what I am. But I have the power to change the way I think and try to open my mind to new viewpoints. We all have that power. The Atlantic does too, and yet for this list they chose not to. In concocting this list and selecting their panel of historians The Atlantic only petitioned white people.

I am not saying that as a negative thing. It’s just a fact. I looked them all up, read their bios and saw their pictures. All very smart and very accomplished, all very white, and in the “whiteness” of these experts lies the problem. When you only ask people from a certain demographic to weigh in on an issue, you get biased results that reflect a limited point of view. American history is considerably more than what white people think.

You can’t tell me that PT Barnum, Stephen Foster or Joseph Smith are more influential in American History than literally every Native American to have ever lived. What about leaders of the Lakota, Dakota, Oglala and others who fought against Manifest Destiny and American expansion and whose resistance and treaties influenced present day American borders?

Photo Credit: Tom/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Come on, this dude can’t be more important than every Native American ever. Photo Credit: Tom/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

What about the Natives who fought along side George Washington during the American Revolution? Surely they had more of a hand in America’s fate and legacy than the writer of “My Old Kentucky Home” or the circus guy. When was the last time you went to a circus? Heck, when was the last time you thought about a circus?

What about Sacagawea who accompanied Lewis and Clark (they made the list) along their expedition? What about Black Elk, Red Cloud or the Code Talkers who helped defeat the Japanese in the Pacific theatre of WWII?

Genocidal Andrew Jackson made the list. I guess you can influence American history by killing Native Americans, but not if you are one.

Part of me wants to forget this stupid list altogether. Part of me wants to argue till I am blue in the face. Instead I will settle to make this one point: Do not forget about us. American historians have an ugly habit of omitting important people and events from its official narrative.

This list is just another in a long line of lists, documents and textbooks that do not acknowledge or accurately teach about the contribution of other ethnic and social groups to American history. We’ve all heard the saying, “history is written by the winners,” and that may be the case, but we should know better.

The Atlantic should know better. The history of America is not monochromatic, nor are the individuals who shaped it.

Cover Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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