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Native voice: Santa Fe Independent Film Festival pays tribute to Tantoo Cardinal

Tantoo Cardinal in a scene from “Falls Around Her,” which screens at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival on Saturday, Oct. 19.

Tantoo Cardinal comes from tough stock.

For decades, the actress and activist has been a voice for indigenous people, leading the way to the mainstream.

“That’s the key,” Cardinal says. “Our people have invaluable perspective. That’s what is missing from mainstream society. There’s a great value that we carry. That is what’s been helping us heal from genocide and colonialism.”

The First Nations actress has appeared in more than 120 film and TV projects throughout her nearly 50-year career, often as the sole Native on a project.

She will be honored with the lifetime achievement award at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival on Saturday, Oct. 19, at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe.

Tantoo Cardinal will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. (Courtesy of SFIFF)

She will be presented with the award before the screening of the film “Falls Around Her,” which stars Cardinal.

Legendary actor Wes Studi will bestow the honor.

“Tantoo brings an uncanny skepticism of acceptance to the roles she chooses,” Studi says. “(She) lights up the screen, even with a frown!”

The Canadian-born Cree/M├ętis actress is considered by many to be the most influential indigenous actress of her generation.

For a decade, Cardinal has been a member of the Order of Canada, the second-highest civilian honor in Canada, after the Order of Merit.

Made famous by the Oscar-winning Best Picture “Dances With Wolves” in 1990, Cardinal continued to accept indigenous roles, seeking to combat harmful on-screen stereotypes against her people.

Throughout 48 years of cinematic performances, Cardinal has contributed more than 100 roles to film and television, including the feature films “Wind River” and “Legends of the Fall” and series such as “Westworld,” “Godless” and “Longmire.”

Her most recent role is as Sue Lynn Blackbird in the hit ABC freshman series “Stumptown.”

The series is based on a comic book series created by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth and Justin Greenwood.

It was adapted for TV by Jason Richman and follows Dexedrine Parios, a sharp-witted military veteran who struggles to get by and take care of her younger brother in Portland, Oregon.

Blackbird is the owner of a tribal casino and the mother of Parios’ deceased ex-boyfriend.

“I was thrilled they chose to continue this character in the series,” Cardinal says. “I was drawn to her because of the sophistication of the character. For us, Native women actors, the degree to which I’ve been asked to participate in a story is amazing. Greg (Rucka) chose this character to be in the show. She’s a strong woman. This series shows women in leadership. Women have always been strong and pillars in our communities. It’s all shifting up.”

In addition to acting, Cardinal has been a voice for Native communities when it comes to global issues such as land preservation and water.

“It hasn’t been easy,” she says. “I really value the experience. It’s an honor to be able to have the opportunity to have a voice in all of this. There are so many voices being heard on world issues. That young Greta (Thunberg) woman, she’s getting the impact on environment to our cultures. We all have to pay attention and not stay silent. These are the types of movements and roles that I look for, something that has substance.”

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