Thosh Collins
Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs (Thosh Collins)

50 Faces of Indian Country: Parker, Miller, Begay, Jacobs, Valdo


The 50 Faces of Indian Country 2015 pays tribute to the diversity, wisdom and energy of contemporary Natives. Pulling it all together was no easy task. The concept was simple and powerful enough, but the devil is in the details. We looked to create a mix that included equal part leaders, actors, activists, musicians, business people, men, women, elders and youth. Finally, painfully, we arrived at The List. For now.

You may already have seen The List -- we printed it up as a special issue that debuted at Santa Fe Indian Market. If you subscribe to our e-newsletter, you received the link in our e-mail inbox. (And if you don't subscribe to our e-newsletter, you should. It's free.)

Reception to the 50 Faces of Indian Country has been enthusiastic, to put it mildly -- and we're already planning next year's list. For every essential or iconic person we included, there were several we couldn't. Feel free to share your suggestions via e-mail ([email protected]) or Facebook.

Let's get this started -- this, remember, is just the first five of 50. There will be more...

Deborah Parker

No other voice may have been louder in support of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization of 2013 than Deborah Parker’s. The former Tulalip Tribe vicechair used her experiences as a survivor of physical and sexual violence as motivation for herself and inspiration for others to help bring VAWA to fruition. On March 7, 2013, when VAWA was signed into law, Parker knew that all her work, the regular red-eye flights from Washington state to Washington, D.C., and time away from family paid off. “I’m so grateful to all the advocates who came together so that no Native woman has to stand alone. Men and women of all nationalities really bonded to protect Native women. How beautiful is that?” Parker said. Her work didn’t end once VAWA was signed into law though. She’s now looking to prevent child abuse, and protect Alaska Native women – who were left out of the current bill by legislators reluctant to push Native jurisdiction issues in the “last frontier” state.

Derek Miller

He is Indian country’s guilty pleasure. Derek Miller, Mohawk, is the late-night talk show host of Guilt Free Zone, an-all indigenous program in Canada that stars musicians, comedians, a variety of other indigenous performers, and even discussions of sex, which, Miller admits, irritates and arouses some viewers. “I think talking about sex is a bit of a touchy subject to some. We definitely have received some complaints from people, but we’re not doing our job, I don’t think, if we don’t push boundaries,” he told ICTMN earlier this year. “Being indigenous and having healthy sexuality is important, so we wanted to talk about it. It’s the driving force around our creation.” Miller, who is also a blues musician, performs across the U.S. and Canada. His latest album, Rumble: A Tribute to Native Music Icons, was released in association with the Smithsonian Museum. Guilt Free Zone airs at 10 p.m. in Canada on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.

Notah Begay

Notah Begay (courtesy Notah Begay III Foundation)

ESPN offered up this fitting, concise profile: “Notah Begay, child of the reservation, creation of the public links, graduate of Stanford University, registered member of the Navajo Nation and son of Mother Earth.” Begay has parlayed his passion for a sport he’s played since six into a way to help Native youth. He won four tournaments in his first two years on the PGA Tour, but his promising career was cut short by a bad back, so he became a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist. The Notah Begay III Foundation is the only national Native American nonprofit solely dedicated to reversing childhood obesity and type-2 diabetes. He still picks up his clubs every year for the Notah Begay III Invitational, held at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York. “This is a lifelong commitment for me,” he says of that event. “I’ll be doing it for decades to come, because that’s how long it will take to provide services to our Indian communities to address childhood obesity and the diabetes epidemic.”

Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs

Mohawk actress Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs has been appearing in movies and TV shows for years, but on the strength of her performance in a couple of diverse and Native-themed projects, she’s suddenly today’s most exciting up-and-coming Native actress. She plays the lead character, Alia, in the acclaimed Rhymes for Young Ghouls, and was nominated in the Best Actress category at the 2014 Canadian Screen Awards. She then showed up in A Tribe Called Red’s “Sisters” music video, and in Indian country you cannot be in a hipper place than a Tribe Called Red video. Still in her early 20s, Jacobs is likely to keep getting interesting film roles, but she is already planning on a career behind the camera as well. In March, her Kickstarter campaign to fund Stolen, a film about missing or murdered Indigenous women, met its goal.

Derek Valdo

Derek Valdo is the first Native CEO of AMERIND Risk, a not-for-profit risk pool management corporation created by 400 tribes to offer property, liability and workers’ compensation insurance and employee benefits. Valdo has served AMERIND for 15 years, as CEO since 2012, and is also a councilman for the Pueblo of Acoma and a board member for the National Indian Child Welfare Association. Under Valdo’s helm, AMERIND has achieved 200 percent growth through its workers’ compensation program and increased its contributions to Native organizations to nearly half a million dollars annually. In 2014, Albuquerque Business First honored him as a Top Tribal CEO in New Mexico. He said then that his goal was to build AMERIND to be the largest tribal-preferred insurance provider in Indian country. “I don’t take [this job] lightly,” Valdo says. “I work for 567 federally recognized tribes. I can’t fail. Failing would mean I failed a lot of tribes.

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