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Home > Teen Authors > Tantoo Cardinal

Tantoo Cardinal
Photo of Tantoo Cardinal

Tantoo Cardinal is considered by many as the world's most widely recognized American Indian actress. Cardinal is the narrator of the documentary Native Spirit. Raised among the Cree, she turned her political activism into an acting career that has included roles as the knowing wife of the medicine man in Dances With Wolves (1990), the poignant childless companion of Rip Torn in Where the Rivers Flow North (1993) and the mother of Brad Pitt's wife in Legends of the Fall (1994).

Cardinal was a leader of a youth group petitioning to get the Canadian government to build more schools on Indian reservations in the province of Alberta when she was cast in a small role in a 1971 Canadian docudrama on the life of Albert Lacombe, a 19th century Roman Catholic missionary. Though uncomfortable with having to portray Lacombe as a savior, Cardinal made the most of her part and, bitten with the acting bug, began performing in films, TV, on stage, and even in industrial films. By 1986, when she moved to the US to pursue a career in Hollywood, she was nationally known in Canada. Strong parts in feature films followed. Having auditioned for Kevin Costner by translating the dialogue into her native Cree, she landed the role of Black Shawl, the knowing wife of medicine man Kicking Bird in Dances With Wolves. In 1991, she was cast by director Bruce Beresford in Black Robe, which earned her critical acclaim for her death scene, complete with an arrow in her neck.

Cardinal has also worked extensively on TV, often in PBS dramas or films on historical First American figures and stories. She broke into network TV with Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge (CBS, 1987), and followed with the PBS Wonderworks special "Places Not Our Own" (billed as Tantoo Martin-Cardinal). Cardinal also appeared in Tecumseh: The Last Warrior (TNT, 1995). She made the first of her recurring appearances on the CBS drama series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman in 1993, cast as Snow Bird, the stalwart Cheyenne friend of frontier physician Jane Seymour.



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