Tatanka Means reclaims heritage

By Megan Corum

Actor, comedian and speaker Tatanka Means addressed Lawrence students about his experiences as a Native American, as well as the importance of Native Americans today, in a presentation entitled “Native Americans: Past, Present, and Future” on Thursday, Nov. 6.

Means is originally from Chinle, Ariz. and has the heritage of three nations: Oglala Lakota, Omaha and Navajo. “I’m like an all-nation mutt,” he said.

He is working on reclaiming his heritage from his various backgrounds.

“I’m not fluid in my language but I wish I was,” Means said. “I don’t know all of it, I probably don’t even know half of it, but I’m striving for it. Language is our identity. It’s who we are. By saving our language, we’re saving our past and saving our future.”

Means also discussed past treatment of Native Americans, starting with Columbus.

“How do you discover someone who already lives there?” he asked. “I can’t come over to your house and be like ‘I discovered you; I’ll have your house now.’”

“I like white people, man. I’m a friend! I’m an ally!” Means said. “But they’re scary, like take-over-your-continent scary.”

Means mentioned several ways people today can help preserve Native American culture. For starters, “Just stop dressing up like us for Halloween!” He continued by saying, “In schools, teach the truth about us. Educate yourself on American-Indian history and who we are in the 21st century.”

He also discussed his work as an actor and comedian. He started acting as a stunt double in a movie that was produced on his reservation. “I’ve done everything to support my dream of where I wanted to be, who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do,” he said.

“I lived in LA for a while; I lived out of my truck,” he said. “When you hear where I started, it’s like ‘god, that sounds awful,’ but now I’m getting some better roles.”

“Wherever you’re at in your life, whatever you’re going through, it gets better. I know you hear that a lot,” Means said. “Don’t be afraid of failure; don’t be afraid to hear no.”

His role in Seth MacFarlane’s “A Million Ways to Die in the West” as an Apache Indian was another thing he mentioned. “I don’t look Apache at all but I guess I look Indian so they cast me as Apache.”

“I’ve never taken a role that would degrade our people,” he said. “[Seth MacFarlane] wasn’t making fun of Indian people but of the stereotype put behind us.”

Junior Nick Felipe attended the presentation. “He provided a good insight to the community about Native American diversity, struggle and values,” Felipe said.

Freshman Penn Ryan said, “I was impressed. It was very inspirational to see such an important guy.”