Tantoo Cardinal is one of the most widely recognized Indigenous actors in the world.
Tantoo is best known for her iconic roles in Dances With Wolves, Legends of the Fall, and Smoke Signals. Tantoo was born in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Raised by her grandmother who was Dene, Tantoo also has Cree, Métis, and Nakota heritage. For Tantoo, her four different heritages tie in as such; Cree is her language, Dene are her important relatives, Nakota is her spiritual side, and Metis is cultural.
Acting was not a planned career choice for Tantoo. She was living in Edmonton at the time, and was drawn to the Alberta Native Communications Society, Canada’s first Indigenous broadcasting company. A friend happened to give her name to a casting director for a small docudrama. She got the part, and the rest is history.
Loyalties (1987) was Tantoo’s breakthrough film. It was her first big hit for which she received several Best Actress awards. “It’s not about me, it’s about us. For me it’s about the stories that are necessary at the time. The issue of sexual abuse, molestation, all of that, was underground. I felt really proud to be part of that story. Anytime you want to go into new territory and bring truth to the surface, there’s all kinds of resistance, right? But that’s the definition of creativity; friction.”
Her career quickly developed into an impressive body of work, earning her worldwide recognition. With over 100 credits to her name, Tantoo has worked with some of the best in the business; Kevin Costner, Graham Greene, Brad Pitt, Sir Anthony Hopkins, James Cromwell, Adam Beach, Gary Farmer, Jason Momoa, and Tina Keeper, to name a few. In 2017, she was awarded the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television’s Earle Grey Award for lifetime achievement.
Tantoo is also known for her work as an environmental and political activist, most recently taking part in the Keystone Pipeline protests, alongside friend and fellow actor, the late Margot Kidder. Indigenous activism and representation are causes she holds dear to her heart. Through her talent and passion, Tantoo is paving the way for young Indigenous actors. You can find Tantoo’s most recent work on the acclaimed series’ Longmire, Frontier, and Godless.