Photo credit: Robby Klein for espnW and TLC
MVP hoopster Shoni Schimmel and acclaimed designer Patricia Michaels were just two notable Natives in 2013

Indians Rule! 10 Ways Natives Made Waves in Arts and Culture in 2013


Happy new year, Indian country -- here's to much success in 2014. Yet we'll be straight with you: The successes Natives enjoyed in the arts and popular culture in 2013 will be hard to top. It was simply a great year for the descendents of Turtle Island's original inhabitants: Native fashion (made by Natives!) was big, Native musicians struck YouTube gold, and a Native athlete emerged as a star on the court and a potential ambassador off it. Here are the ten stories we look back on fondly from 2013 -- let them inspire us to rise to greater heights in 2014.

Patricia Michaels was an audience favorite on 'Project Runway.'

Patricia Michaels Makes the Final Two on Project Runway

When all was said and done, veteran Santa Fe-based designer Patricia Michaels, Taos Pueblo, didn't win Project Runway, despite being, arguably, the favorite going into the final night. A disappointment -- but hardly the end of the world for Michaels, who has been creating her own fashions for 20 years. Win or lose, her run to the show's finale raised her profile and prepared her for bigger things to come. Michaels wasn't the only Native winning hearts and minds on a TV competition show -- rap act Mike Bone made an enjoyable, though unsuccessful, run at fame on America's Got Talent.

Shoni Schimmel is one smart jock. Photo by Robby Klein for espnW.

The Umatilla Thrilla Takes Center Stage

Indian country came together to watch the University of Louisville's women's basketball team, led by Umatilla sisters Shoni and Jude Schimmel, get all the way to the finals of the NCAA Tournament before falling to the University of Connecticut in a game that wasn't reflective of the team's excellence throughout the season. It just wasn't the Cards' night. But Shoni and Jude have (like a number of players before them) brought rez ball into the spotlight. Seven months after that title matchup, Shoni took her game to the next level, becoming not just a star athlete but potential spokesperson for Native people with thoughtful comments in an ESPN interview. Schimmel indicated that she thought the Washington Redskins ought to change their name and mascot, sentiments echoed by the man who is possibly Indian country's most beloved living athlete, Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills

Radmilla Cody dropped by to taste the excitement at the Navajo Star Wars casting sessions.

Just a Few Months Ago, in a Galaxy Very Close to Our Own...

The film that became a global phenomenon in 1977 went where few have gone before when it was translated into the Dine language -- the 4th of July premiere of Navajo Star Wars on the Navajo Nation was a unique event in the history of Native cinema. In all, 2013 was a great year for American Indian film -- see our lists of of five must-see movies and five more.

Road Tripping, Native Style, home of sexy selfies and viral video clips, posted a video of four Natives -- Antoine Edwards Jr., Butchie Eastman, Doug Thomas and Elton Wayne -- singing in a car. Why? How did TheChive take an interest in a spontaneous round dance tune recorded on a road trip? We don't know -- but appreciative viewers loved "Roundys on the Road," pushing its view count on YouTube up to several hundred of thousands.

Yes, We Cannes

In what is believed to be a first, Native American actresses strutted their stuff on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival in France. Misty Upham and Michelle Thrush made the scene alongside Benicio Del Toro, their Jimmy P. leading man, and did it in style. 

LightningCloud's Biggest Break Yet

LightningCloud is an L.A.-based hip hop act that plays a raw, sexy, urban brand of music that elicits mixed reactions in Indian country -- hey, it's not for everyone. But when the group faced off against a promising rapper from New York in an east-vs-west battle, the Natives came out on top. The prize was a recording session with famed rap producer Timbaland, which yielded the single "Sake Bombs" (you can watch the video here).

Four Designers Produce for 'Paul Frank Presents'

Paul Frank Industries screwed up royally when it threw a "Dream Catchin'" party for Fashion's Night Out in 2012 -- and then took the high road in a big way by inviting four Native designers to collaborate with the company on a line of products. Called "Paul Frank Presents," the line debuted at the Santa Fe Indian Market. To learn more about the designers and see galleries of their work, visit our features on Autumn Dawn Gomez, Dustin Martin, Candace Halcro and Louie Gong.

Sadness Never Sounded So Sweet

We don't know what sort of hopes the talented young duo Dani and Lizzy had when they posted their own composition, "Dancing in the Sky," to YouTube, but we're guessing they didn't expect the melancholy tune to rack up 2.6 million (and counting) views. A simple rumination on the loss of a loved one, something every human being can relate to, struck a chord with people all over the world.

Family tradition: Tatanka and Nataanii keeping the Means legacy strong.

Tatanka and Nataanii Means: Living Tributes to Their Famous Father

Indian country lost its most visible and outspoken advocate in 2012 when Russell Means, who was also an actor, passed on; in 2013 his sons did him proud by excelling in the field of entertainment. Tatanka Means scored big with reviewers for his performance in Tiger Eyes, and he signed on to the Cinemax series Banshee (on which Russell had appeared in one of his final acting roles). Nataanii Nez Means released his debut hip hop album 2 Worlds, which was picked as one of the best releases of 2013 by ICTMN reviewers. The album frequently makes reference to Russell, who himself experimented with spoken-word music with a 1993 album, Electric Warrior.

Native Pride, From the Feet Up

Smack dab in the middle of Native American Heritage Month -- a time when mainstream America makes an effort to recognize Natives -- a grassroots phenomenon un-sanctioned by the U.S. government grows. It's called Rock Your Mocs Day, and for the something-th year in a row we saw American Indians connecting over social media by posting pictures of themselves in classic footwear. Home, office, outdoors -- it didn't matter: November 15 was Rock Your Mocs Day, and moccasins were rocked. "Rocked," of course, is a slangy way of saying "worn," but photographer Thosh Collins and dancer James Jones did some literal moc-rocking with a dance clip filmed on the streets of New York that captures the modern urban Indian spirit.