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