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'Apocalypto' actor's ancestry questioned

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  • Robert Schmidt
    http://www.calendarlive.com/movies/cl-et-youngblood28mar28,0,701419.story?c oll=cl-movies Apocalypto actor s ancestry questioned I am Comanche, insists
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 28, 2007

      'Apocalypto' actor's ancestry questioned
      'I am Comanche,' insists Rudy Youngblood, who is being honored by a Native
      American group.

      By Robert W. Welkos
      Times Staff Writer

      March 28, 2007

      When Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto" premiered last December, the action-filled
      film set against the backdrop of the Maya empire launched the career of a
      young Texan named Rudy Youngblood.

      In interviews plugging the movie, Youngblood, who plays the film's central
      character, Jaguar Paw, routinely discussed his Indian ancestry and his
      connections to three American tribes. He told one interviewer: "I also have
      ancestors who fought at Wounded Knee and Little Big Horn, so it's not hard
      to use my Native American heritage for this role."

      But just as the 25-year-old actor climbs the ladder of Hollywood stardom, a
      Comanche conservative pundit is roiling the Native American community by
      raising questions about Youngblood's ancestry, sparking a raging debate on
      various American Indian websites. The issue strikes a sensitive chord as
      well in Hollywood, where today's movie industry can expect to come under
      fire for casting non-minorities in minority roles.

      So far, the questions over Youngblood's ancestry haven't been enough to
      derail plans by First Americans in the Arts, a nonprofit group that honors
      Native American accomplishments in entertainment, to award him its
      outstanding new lead actor award at its Beverly Hills soiree on April 14,
      but David A. Yeagley is not giving up.

      "He has no Indian blood in him that anyone can validate," Yeagley said.
      "[Comanche] officials got scooped up in the thrill of claiming a movie

      For his part, Youngblood said he can't understand why Yeagley has it in for

      "It's very hateful and very negative," Youngblood said in a recent phone
      interview. "He stalks me like he knows me. He's never met me."

      Michelle R. Shining Elk, the actor's manager and publicist, calls Yeagley's
      allegations "off the wall" and in turn accuses Yeagley of falsifying his
      own background.

      Burgeoning career

      The controversy comes at a time when Youngblood is being courted by several
      producers. The actor has received "numerous" scripts and is currently in
      negotiations on a project, which Shining Elk would not identify except to
      say it would be even more physically demanding than his grueling role as a
      man on the run in "Apocalypto."

      Youngblood, who earned acclaim for his work in the action-adventure movie,
      is represented by Gibson's agent Ed Limato and Jim Osborne at International
      Creative Management. For his part, Youngblood said, "I don't want the rest
      of my career to be pursuing Native American roles; I want to be challenged
      as an actor."

      The debate over Youngblood's ancestry highlights the complexity involved
      when determining what it means to be Native American.

      Youngblood's personal website states: "Rudy is from the Tahchawwickah
      Comanche family, his father is the late Preston Tahchawwickah. He is
      adopted Cree…. Like many Native people, Rudy is an integral part of several
      Indian families throughout the United States — he is honored to be a part
      of each of them."

      Jolene Schonchin, a spokeswoman for the Comanche Nation in Lawton, Okla.,
      said Youngblood "is not on our tribal rolls, but he does have Comanche
      blood. His blood comes from his paternal side. His father was a
      full-blooded Comanche and a prominent member of the Comanche tribe, Preston

      That claim doesn't sit well with some members of the Tahchawwickah family.

      "I never heard of this guy until this movie came out," said Rodney
      Tahchawwickah of Cache, Okla., who noted that Youngblood didn't show up at
      Preston Tahchawwickah's funeral two years ago.

      Dawn Tahchawwickah of Dallas, Preston's daughter and Rodney's half-sister,
      described Youngblood as "only a family friend," adding, "He is nothing to
      my father."

      However, another of Preston's children, Lance Tahchawwickah, has come out
      publicly in support of Youngblood, calling him "my brother."

      Youngblood told The Times that Preston Tahchawwickah was not his biological
      father but his ceremonially adoptive father. Regardless, Youngblood said,
      "I am Comanche. I'm not going to go into names. My tribe knows it. That is
      all that needs to be said."

      Youngblood said his biological mother is Comanche and his biological father
      is Yaqui, but he declined to identify them further, citing concerns for
      their privacy.

      When contacted by phone, a woman in Belton, Texas, who identified herself
      as Youngblood's mother said that she is Comanche and that she finds the
      debate over her son's heritage "hilarious."

      The actor said he has used the name "Youngblood" — a family name that he
      said comes from an uncle — since he was 6. He said he has also used the
      name Rudy Gonzales, which he said was his stepfather's name.

      Youngblood's defenders have blasted Yeagley and question his motives.

      "The bottom line is, we don't need to explain anything to him," said
      Shining Elk. "Rudy is just his current target."

      Heritage dispute

      Meanwhile, Yeagley's own American Indian heritage has been questioned by
      his critics. The website DavidYeagley.org, a forum for anti-Yeagley
      commentary, claims Yeagley had a Comanche stepmother and "was never raised
      in Comanche ways and was never taught them."

      The Oklahoma-based Yeagley scoffed at the allegations. "Their only defense
      is to discredit me, saying that I am not an Indian." He said his mother was
      a Comanche with some Chickasaw, and his father was part German and part

      Yeagley, whose attacks on Youngblood can be found at his website
      BadEagle.com, has infuriated many Indians with his endorsement of Columbus
      Day parades and the use of Indian mascots on campuses, something that many
      Native Americans find offensive. Yeagley's critics often vent against him
      on BadEagle.org, whose similar-sounding Web address is intended to lure
      surfers away from Yeagley's site.

      Donna Talamantes, a trustee of the First Americans in the Arts group, said
      they have received e-mails and letters from Yeagley and his supporters
      protesting the group's plan to honor Youngblood at next month's Beverly
      Hills banquet.

      But she says they have no plans to cancel the award.

      "We went back and forth, and we believe him to be who he says he is," she
      said. "We've talked to family members and community members who will vouch
      for him."

      Talamantes lamented that the flap has ensnared a promising young actor.
      "The sad thing is that as Native Americans, we are the only people in the
      country who have to prove who we are as native peoples."

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