Jay Silverheels was a Kanien'kehá:ka actor born Harold J. Smith on May 26th, 1912. He was born on the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation reservation, the most populous First Nation in Canada, and the only nation in which all six Iroquois nations live together. He was the third of eleven children born to Major George Smith, the most decorated Native American soldier in the Canadian Army, who served in World War I.
Harold began going by the name Jay and was given the nickname Silverheels when he played on the lacrosse team, the Mohawk Stars, at sixteen. He later moved across the Niagara River to play lacrosse on the North American Amateur Lacrosse Association team, the Rochester Iroquois. He also boxed and in 1938 placed second in the middleweight section of the Golden Gloves tournament. He lived for a time in Buffalo, where he had his first son, Ron, with Edna Lickers.
The previous year he'd begun working in film, as an extra in the musical comedy, Make a Wish. He married his first wife, Bobbi, and they had a daughter named Sharon. They divorced in 1943. Over the next few years he appeared, usually uncredited, as a stuntman or extra in The Sea Hawk, Too Many Girls, Hudson's Bay, Wester Union, Jungle Girl, This Woman is Mine, Valley of the Sun, Perils of Nyoka, Good Morning, Judge, Daredevils of the West, The Girl from Monterrey, Northern Pursuit, The Phantom, I Am an American, Raiders at the Border, Passage to Marseille, The Tiger Woman, Haunted Harbor, Lost in a Harem and Song of the Sarong.
Ray Mala was an Inupiat actor born in Candle, Alaska on December 27th, 1906. In 1925 Mala made his way to Edendale and got a job as a cameraman with Fox Film Corporation, which relocated the following year to Movietone City, in modern Century City.
In 1932, Mala was featured as an actor in Edwin Wing's "documentary," Igloo, which was distributed by Universal and became a hit. The following year, he appeared as "Mala the Magnificent" in the big budget MGM film, Eskimo. The pre-code film titillated audiences with displays of wife-sharing and co-stared, as Mala's second wife, Japanese-Hawaiian actress, Lotus Long. An enormous success, it led to his becoming the first Native star of the Hollywood Studio Era.
In 1935, he rejoined Lotus Long, returning the cultural casting favor playing a Pacific Islander with her in Last of the Pagans (1935). He went on to play mostly Pacific Islanders and Native Americans in Northerns like Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Island and The Jungle Princess (both 1936). June 2, 1937 he took as his bride Galina Kropotkin, a Russian Princess sometimes known as Galina Liss. He then took the year off from acting.
Cast and Crew Members at Inceville in Santa Monica, circa 1915
Before the emergence of Hollywood and the studio system, moviemaking was something of a free-for-all, open to anyone that could afford it. In the US, that privileged group was almost exclusively white and male. Roles for minorities were usually crudely stereotypical, minor, and liable to be played by a white actor in yellowface, brownface, blackface or redface. As a result, some minority figures attempted to start their own alternatives. In 1916, Oakland resident Marion Wong made the first example of Asian-American Cinema with The Curse of Quon Gwon. A few years later, Anna Mae Wong and Sessue Hayakawa began making films. In 1918, John Noble invented Black Cinema with Birth of a Race. He was soon joined in his endeavor by Oscar Mischeaux.
True Native American cinema beat them both by almost a decade. The mainstream view of Natives at the time was generally less murderously hateful than those of contemporary Asians and blacks (or the Natives' ancestors). In fact, Natives were widely adored and fetishized, what Frank Chin would later term “love racism." Natives, regardless of reality, were reduced to mere metaphors and symbols… for stoicism, honor, strength, &c. Edward S. Curtis's 1914 In the Land of the Headhunters and Robert Flaherty's 1922 Nanook of the North have little to do with reality, but did reflect well-meaning white men’s attempts to portray their subjects with some respect, even if it meant they had to fictionalize and stage everything.
So anyway, Natives have a long history of being "urban." Before being decimated by disease, warfare, slavery and famine, Natives were responsible for creating some of the biggest, most-populated cities of their day. Here are some of my favorite Native American urban centers...
ANCIENT CITIES OF NATIVE AMERICA
Caral was inhabited between roughly 2600 BC and 2000 BC and covered 66 hectares. It's one of the oldest towns in the Americas in what's today Peru) and was home to more than 3,000 members of what is now known as the Norte Chico Civilization.