Super Heroes Label Copy

Head label

Tales of superheroes inspire people to bravery and spark the imagination of both children and adults. Superheroes may be animals, humans or magical beings who speak, transform and use their special powers to fight evil and help others. Many American Indian legends feature animal heroes of great power who teach life lessons.

During the last few decades, some of the classic superheroes have inspired American Indian artists and graphic novelists to create new Native superheroes who confront evil and defend good in their communities.

Artists and graphic novelists also celebrate historical heroes who have overcome huge problems, who are strong in amazing ways and who fight for their beliefs. They, too, deserve the title “superhero.”

Jason Garcia
Santa Clara Pueblo, b. 1973
“Dreaming of Native Heroes” jar, 2010

In addition to depicting the cover of Tribal Force, Garcia also depicted his father as a soldier in World War II, other Native warriors, and “Frybread Man,” the superhero created by Ryan Huna Smith, whose drawings illustrated Tribal Force.

Collection of Michael and JoAnne Mandracchia

Tribal Force, Mystic Comics, August 1996
Jon Proudstar (Yaqui/Mayan Jewish/Latino), b. 1967, creator and writer
Ryan Huna Smith (Chemehuevi/Navajo), penciler

 Tribal Force was the first comic book to feature an all-Indian team of superheroes created, written and illustrated by American Indians. In this landmark publication, its creators moved beyond the Indigenous stereotypes of speech, behavior, costume and storyline that had persisted in mainstream comic books for decades.

Gift of Michael and JoAnne Mandracchia


INSPIRED (Sub section label)

Superheroes have inspired many artists who grew up reading comic books and honored those heroes in their art. Some imagined their heroes being a closer part of their lives and even sharing their cultural heritage. Here is some inspired art.


“I have had a life-long love of comic books. The two constants of my childhood were American Indian art and comic books. Growing up the child of art collectors, I was surrounded by amazing Native art; however, I was more interested in the art I found in my comics. Masters of the craft like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Jim Lee—whose work inspired this piece—filled pages with art that rivaled anything I had seen on a gallery wall.”

—Tom Farris (Otoe-Missouria/ Cherokee/), 2014

Tom Farris
Otoe-Missouria/Cherokee, b. 1978
“(Su)perman,” 2014
Acrylic on canvas

“While Indians have appeared in comics for years, they’ve always been very blatant in their names and costumes—Warpath, Thunderbird, Shaman. I thought it would be interesting explore a superhero who just happened to be Native.

“I decided to take on Superman, arguably the most recognized comic-book character, and see what he would look like from a Native perspective. Besides the flowing hair and the skin tones, I wanted to subtly express that this hero was Native, without adding feathers or giving him a tomahawk. So I replaced the ‘S’ logo with the Cherokee syllabary letter that makes the ‘soo’ sound. Few people realize that citizens of the Cherokee Nation have their own written language and that it is still a vibrant part of the tribe’s culture today. New words are being added all the time, and a new generation of speakers is being educated in Cherokee-language-immersion schools. With this in mind, I sought to take an iconic character and make small changes so that at first glance he is instantly recognizable, but definitively Indian.”

—Tom Farris

The symbol on my chest is “soo” in the Cherokee language, and it is my sign as a Cherokee superhero.

Although Jason Garcia creates tiles and ceramic vessels using traditional techniques and materials of Santa Clara Pueblo ceramics, his pop-culture themes have brought a fresh look and voice to the art form. Superhero-themed art has been a focus of many of his ceramics. His work has been recognized with awards at Santa Fe Indian Market and the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market. In 2007, he was the Dubin Fellowship recipient at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, and his innovative work has been featured in several publications.

Jason Garcia
Santa Clara Pueblo, b. 1973
Wonder Woman jar, 2014
Collection of Charles King

Jason Garcia
Santa Clara Pueblo, b. 1973
Golden Age Green Lantern and Modern Green Lantern jar, 2010
Collection of Charles King

Jacob Garcia
Santa Clara Pueblo, b. 1995
Green Lantern power ring, 2010

Jason Garcia’s son, Jacob, continues his father’s interest in superhero-themed art, along with pursuing his own interest in performing and playing music.

Collection of Charles King

Jason Garcia
Santa Clara Pueblo, b. 1973
Thor and Loki jar, 2014

Loki, the adopted brother of Thor, is a sorcerer who is jealous of his brother’s power and the high regard the citizens of Asgard have for him. Sometimes called the “God of Evil,” he has battled his brother to seize control of Asgard and has extended the battle to Earth. Thor is holding his hammer, Mjölnir, a weapon so powerful it can smash mountains.

Collection of Charles King

Marcus Amerman’s artwork includes painting, glass, clothing design and performance art, but some of his most acclaimed work has been beadwork, especially the realistic re-creation of portraits of historical and pop-culture figures. His work is in many public collections, including the National Museum of the American Indian and the Heard Museum.

Marcus Amerman
Choctaw, b. 1959
Wonder Woman bracelet, 2003
Collection of Jeanie M. Harlan

Marcus Amerman
Choctaw, b. 1959
Wonder Woman buckle, 2007
Anonymous lender



Susan Folwell and Autumn Borts
Santa Clara Pueblo, b. 1970, and Santa Clara Pueblo, b. 1967
Pueblo Girl bowl, 2012

Autumn Borts and Susan Folwell collaborated on this bowl, with Susan doing the painting. Here she is recognizing the power of making pottery and all that it has meant through the decades to many Pueblo families. The uppermost jar is in the style of jars created by Jody Folwell, Susan’s mother, and a salute to Jody’s work. The painting delivers the message that “Pottery power packs a punch.”

Collection of Charles King



Susan Folwell
Santa Clara Pueblo, b. 1970
Batman canteen, 2011

This was one of the first ceramics Folwell made that referenced a superhero.

Collection of Charles King

Susan Folwell
Santa Clara Pueblo, b. 1970
“Buffalo Woman,” 2015

As the artist worked through superhero imagery, she moved toward images more deeply linked to Pueblo figures. The earliest is the Batman canteen; next came Pueblo Girl, who is a “cousin” of Wonder Woman; and finally, Buffalo Woman, who is deeply part of the powerful women of Pueblo tradition. Her powers are shown on this bowl: bringing the gifts and blessings of rain, and the symbols of rain that flow through Pueblo art, the rivers that flow because of the rain, and the corn that sustains the Pueblo people.

Gift of Norman L. Sandfield



Dominique Reano
Cochiti Pueblo/Santo Domingo Pueblo/Kewa Pueblo, b.
Pueblo Powerpuff Girls

Just like Bubbles, Blossom and Buttercup in Townsville, we look after the pueblos.

Dominique Reano moved the Powerpuff Girls to the New Mexico pueblos. The Powerpuff Girls were created by Professor Utonium, who was trying to create perfect little girls. When Chemical X was accidentally spilled into the creation material, each girl was created with superpowers including flight, super strength, super speed, super senses and energy projection. They defend their hometown of Townsville, USA from a variety of villains.

Collection of Charles King










In many Native cultures, Raven is a creature of superpowers and great daring. In the Algonquin language, the Raven is called Kagagi. Jay Odjick created the superhero Kagagi based on the legends and stories of the Anishinabe.

Hi, I’m Matthew Carver. I’m just a regular kid attending Westside High—or I was, until I inherited the powers of KAGAGI (The Raven_, the champion of my people, the Algonquins of Kitigan Zibi.

I’m Wisakejak. I have been on Earth since ancient times. In those times my people, the Anishinabe, were stalked and killed by the evil Windigo and his followers. I and the people of my village joined with the people of the forest and fought a great battle with the Windigo and his army. We defeated the Windigo and his army—for a time. But now they are back. And Matt is going to be our warrior. He will be Kagagi.

I am Windigo. I am the darkness that resides in the nightmares of the Anishinabe, and I have an army to join me in evil.

I am Kagagi. I have defeated the Windigo and his army once, but I am just learning my full power and I know that he will come back and we will fight again.

Kagagi is created, drawn and written by Jay Odjick (Anishinabe/Kitigan Zibi Algonquins). © Jay Odjick



Jay Odjick is a writer and artist from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Algonquin Nation in Quebec.

Odjick has worked in independent comics for many years and has experience in self-publishing in addition to freelance creator credits. He also created the webcomic Power Hour for director Kevin Smith’s Odjick has also worked in freelance illustration and has illustrated works by several renowned authors, including providing illustrations for a reprint of Clive Barker’s The Midnight Meat Train and illustrations for seven books written by Robert Munsch.

After publishing his creator-owned graphic novel Kagagi: The Raven through Canada’s largest comics publisher, Arcana Comics, Odjick and Arcana’s Sean Patrick O’Reilly co-founded a production company that produced the animated series Kagagi based on the graphic novel. Odjick is an executive producer on the show and also serves as its character designer and lead writer. You can watch Kagagi on APTN Sundays at 10 a.m. or online at For more information, contact Odjick on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @jayodjick.







Hello, I’m Hubert Logan and I was born and raised on the Leaning Oaks Reservation. I work as a janitor at the Leaning Oaks Bingo Hall. I developed superpowers through an accident when I ate a lot of commodity cheese that was tainted with “Rezium.” Rezium was supposed to solve world hunger, but something went wrong.

When I become Super Indian, I am very strong, with subsonic hearing, super smell and fire-breath—and I keep discovering new powers!

I’m Diogi, Super Indian’s dog. I also ate the tainted cheese. I was always a very smart Rez Dog. I have my own library card from the Leaning Oaks Library. Now I can talk—although only Super Indian can hear me!

I’m General Bear, Hubert’s best friend. I help Super Indian as Mega Bear. I don’t have his super powers, but I’m a big help, I can think of ways to solve problems, and I’m brave, even without superpowers.

I’m Technoskin, a robot created by the evil Derek Thunder so he could take control of the Leaning Oaks Reservation. Derek lost control of me and now I am a Destroyer, commanding others to obey me. If I could see into my future, I would know that Super Indian’s super strength will crush me into a tiny steel ball.

Super Indian is created, drawn and written by Arigon Starr.

Arigon Starr
Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma
“Super Indian”
Graphic art
©2015 Wacky Productions Unlimited

Find out more at

Arigon Starr is an enrolled member of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma. She was encouraged by her parents to learn as much as possible about music, composition, art and drama. After moving to Los Angeles, she worked for a time behind the scenes at entertainment companies like Viacom Productions and Showtime Networks.

In 1996 Starr became a full-time musician. Her work in music has led to numerous awards including Songwriter of the Year from the Native American Music Awards and a nomination for Best Country CD from Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples Choice Awards. For her acting, Starr has been awarded two First Americans in the Arts awards, the Maverick Award from the Los Angeles Women’s Theater Project, and a Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers award.

In 2007, Native Voices at the Autry and the Native Radio Theater Project teamed with Starr for Super Indian, a radio comedy series she created that was taped before a live audience. Super Indian went on to become a full-fledged online comic-book series and graphic novels. Super Indian Volume One has been featured at the Phoenix and Denver Comic-Cons, and Super Indian Volume Two has just been published. Starr is a founder of the Indigenous Narratives Collective, a group of Native American comics creators that has published Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers.



Theo Tso
Enrolled Las Vegas Paiute, b. 1974
“Captain Paiute,” 2015
Graphic art
© Theo Tso

According to Theo Tso, “As far back as I can remember, I loved to draw comics and cartoons. I basically taught myself how to draw, mainly from comics. When I reached high school, I began reading comic books to study various artists whose style I began to admire and study how they drew each page of the book they were illustrating.

“I created a Native American superhero after noticing that there weren’t any comics that were written, drawn or even created by Native Americans! I saw that there was a need for a superhero that was Native American, and he would be dealing with Native issues coming on and off the various reservations of the Southwest. With a focus I began creating Captain Paiute, the Indigenous Avenger of the Southwest!”

Tso was asked to draw Masked Men issue #0, and he drew the characters again when they were published in Phil Yeh’s Winged Tiger series.

In addition to drawing and creating superheroes, Tso has served three terms as a tribal council member.

Today, Tso says, “I still reside on the tiny 13-acre parcel that [we] tribal members so lovingly call ‘The Colony,’ with my crazy mutt Wee Man. [And] oh yeah, I still draw comics!”


“Luther Pah is orphaned after a tragic car accident that injures him and kills his parents. His grandfather is the only family he has left. His grandfather, a medicine man, raises him and teaches Luther the culture of their people and the sacred ways of living and communing with the Earth. Grandfather is also a storyteller, and he tells Luther a story about how the Old One and Pah found warriors and give them special powers to protect his people from the dangers of what the Old One saw in a vision during hibernation.

“Several years later, Luther is off to college and he looks around and notices that the reservation is changing and that criminals have found their way on the ‘rez.’ One late night in the chemistry lab, while studying hard for semester finals, Luther knocks over a beaker of acid onto his hand. He goes to look and there’s no scarring. His grandfather’s story was true! He was chosen to protect his people!

“After graduation, he returns to the reservation to clean up what the criminal element has done to his lands and to his people. He becomes Captain Paiute: The Indigenous Defender of the Southwest.” —Theo Tso

Captain Paiute: “I was given the task of defending our sacred ways from becoming extinct [and] protecting our sacred lands from all those who trespass upon them. I am Captain Paiute: Indigenous Defender of the Southwest!”

Theo Tso
Enrolled Las Vegas Paiute, b. 1974
“Bad Medicine,” 2015
Graphic art
© Theo Tso

Bad Medicine’s Origin

“Waylon Willie thought he was supposed to become the Indigenous Defender. But his bad ways meant he was forced off the reservation and Luther Pah was chosen. Waylon’s father went into a rage and sought revenge for his son, but when that failed he taught his son the dark ways that were handed down by his ancestor, an evil medicine man who was skilled in the dark arts—thus setting forth his path of destruction to the ones who shunned his family.” —Theo Tso

Bad Medicine: “Bad blood has been spilt over my family name, and as an agent of chaos it’s my sole purpose to make the Indigenous population suffer and feel my wrath for what they have endured! Waylon Willie is no more; from this day forth I shall only be known as Bad Medicine!”



In their book The Hero Twins (University of New Mexico Press, 2015), Jim Kristofic tells the story of the Twins in Navajo and English, and Nolan Karras James (Diné) creates dramatic illustrations of the story.

In this very old story of the Diné (Navajo), the Hero Twins become renowned monster slayers of the Navajo who protect the Navajo from the naayéé. The naayéé are monsters with sharp teeth who hunted, killed and ate the Diné. The Hero Twins’ names are Monster Slayer and Child Born for Water.

But the Twins were not always heroes. They had to become heroes by learning first from their mother, Changing Woman, Talking God and Water Sprinkler, and then from Spider Woman and from their father, The Sun.

On a journey to find their father, they met with Spider Woman, who taught the brothers how to face their enemies and gave them a sacred hoop to be used for protection with powerful singing.

The brothers’ journey took them through the Crushing Rocks, the Slashing Reeds, the Giant Awl Cactuses and finally the Boiling Dunes. With the sacred hoop and songs taught to them by Spider Woman, they were successful in their long, dangerous journey. After many trials, they found their father, The Sun, who, after many more tests, gave them the power and knowledge to kill the naayéé.

The Hero Twins art created by Nolan Karras James (Diné). © University of New Mexico Press.


Lisa Holt and Harlan Reano
Cochiti Pueblo, b. 1980 and Santo Domingo Pueblo/Kewa, b. 1978
“Pueblo Warrior Trio,” 2014

Sometimes Superheroes fight in teams. These Superheroes have big eyes so they can see at night, special clothes so they can move quickly, and masks to disguise their true identities. Look at the way the team is standing. Sometimes the way a person stands can show power and warn villains away.

Promised gift of American Indian Art Magazine

Jeffrey Veregge is a graphic designer and an honor graduate of the Art Institute of Seattle. On his website, he describes his art as “a reflection of a lifetime love affair with comic books, toys, TV and film.” Having studied with Tsimshian master carver David Boxley, he has joined his understanding of Coast Salish design with appreciation of superheroes to create uniquely Native versions of familiar superheroes in dramatic color and action poses.

Jeffrey Veregge
Port Gamble S’Klallam, b. 1974
“Synthetic,” March 2014
Giclée print

Veregge’s name for his Coast Salish version of the android Vision is based on the character’s origins as a “synthetic human.”

Jeffrey Veregge
Port Gamble S’Klallam, b. 1974
“As Nature Intended,” February 2014
Giclée print

If Guardians of the Galaxy heroes Rocket Raccoon and Groot were Salish heroes, they would look like these figures. Raccoons are known for their cleverness, making this raccoon a good partner for his stronger friend, who says just a few words but with different meanings that his raccoon friend understands.

Jeffrey Veregge
Port Gamble S’Klallam, b. 1974
Giclée print, spring 2013

This print of Salish Hulk and Wolverine is a portion of a mural created for The Works, Art & Design Festival in Edmonton, Alberta.

At one point in Wolverine’s long history, he fought at the same time both the Hulk and Windigo, the enemy of the Raven. Wolverine knew he couldn’t defeat both at once, so he and the Hulk briefly teamed to defeat the Windigo, before turning on each other in a fight that the Hulk won.

Jeffrey Veregge
Port Gamble S’Klallam, b. 1974
“The Bat, 66”
Giclée print, November 2014




Every superhero and helper has special clothing that enhances their superpowers. Sometimes they have to disguise who they are. Sometimes they have to put on capes or clothing that helps them fly. Sometimes they put on armor that protects them. Think about what you would want to make to become a terrific superhero helper.



A superhero needs an animal companion. Here are some animal companions that are ready to help you. They all have different strengths and talents. Pick the one you want to help you.


WOLF: Wolves are animals of courage and strength. They are loyal companions and good hunters. Wolves are strong leaders, and because they hunt in packs, they can call on pack members for help. A wolf would be a fierce protector if you were in danger. Wolves have a wonderful sense of smell and can run for miles. A wolf can transform into another animal or human. Because he is familiar with many parts of North America, he would be helpful on a long journey.

 BEAR: Bears are known for their great strength and wisdom. They are very serious and noble leaders with healing powers. They can be protectors of people and can use their powers to make sure people don’t misbehave. Even though they are large, they can run very fast. They are good companions to have if your enemy is very powerful and in case you get injured.

 RAVEN: Raven is a very important as a superhero who can transform. He is especially honored by people of the Northwest and the Arctic, if your journey takes you there. Raven is very intelligent and has great powers that can help people. Raven is also a very clever trickster. He is a risk-taker, and sometimes that gets him into trouble, but he is usually smart enough to get out of trouble. Ravens can use their ability to fly to see the big picture.

 SEA OTTER: A sea otter companion would be loyal and honest. Sea otters are fun, with lots of personality, and they are smart, mischievous and unafraid of people. A sea otter would be clever and athletic and an excellent swimmer, but it could also move on land, so it is very adaptable. Otters can stand the cold very well and can live in many different places. Depending on your challenge, this could be very helpful.

RACCOON: Raccoons are very clever and can use their paws to do many things, including escape from danger. They already have a mask that is a result of the way their fur is marked. They are curious about many things, and because they are smart, they can solve puzzles and open doors or even cupboards with latches. They can be funny and are capable of looking cute and harmless, which fools enemies because really they are very cunning. They can climb and be very sneaky. They are good at hiding in small spaces and watching what an enemy is doing.

urbanSTEW is a Phoenix-based arts collective dedicated to inspiring and expanding the relevance of digital arts in the community. Our commitment to education, artistic practice, and creative tool development grows out of our passion for engaging audiences through active participation. “Animal Companion” was created by the four members of urbanSTEW, Robert Esler, Jessica Rajko, Stjepan Rajko and Lisa Tolentino, in collaboration with artist Chris Todd.





Meet Jonesy the Sheep. He is like no other sheep you have ever met. He went to school. In fact, he just graduated from high school. No, he can’t fly and doesn’t have super strength, but HE IS A SHEEP WHO JUST GRADUATED FROM HIGH SCHOOL. He lives at Hogback, New Mexico, on the Navajo Nation. He isn’t sure what he is going to do with his life, so while he is thinking about that, he decides he will shear himself and sell his wool.

Jonesy is created by Jonathan Nelson (Diné, b. 1977). Nelson has an MFA from the University of Arizona and created Jonesy in the last year of his studies in 2011. Nelson teaches at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is Kinya’áanii born for Nakai Dine’e.


Many Native stories illustrate cooperation between people and animals, recognizing the wisdom that animals possess. In Never Alone, Nuna is an Inupiaq girl whose helper is an Arctic fox. Nuna and her fox must travel through an endless blizzard to find the source of the storm that destroyed her village.

NEVER ALONE began when the Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Alaska sought a product they could invest in that would support their many social-service programs. They teamed with E-Line Media, a Seattle company, to form Upper One Games, the first indigenous-owned video-game company in the United States. Game developers worked for two and a half years with Alaska Native people whose many areas of knowledge came together to shape the game, including artists, elders, hunters, storytellers and teachers. The game is based on a traditional story of the Inupiaq and is told in the Inupiaq language. It is a modern way to teach the Inupiaq language to young people while earning money to support the Cook Inlet Tribal Council’s other projects.

Courtesy of Cook Inlet Tribal Council and E-Line Media.




Artist and designer Virgil Ortiz has brought together a historic and futuristic reimagining of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and its real superhero, Po’Pay. His story takes place simultaneously in the past and future. Created in clay and costume the story tells of how the return of an invading army—the Castilians—would be fought by the Spirit World Army.

 The time is 2180. It has been 500 years since Po’Pay led the first Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish in what became New Mexico. This time the enemy is the Castilian Army. Po’Pay returns, and he has a plan. He calls on the Survivorship Fleet to transport the Spirit World Army to Earth’s realm to fight the Castilian Army. He calls on the Blind Archers, the Runners and the Venutian Soldiers.

 Virgil Ortiz
Cochiti Pueblo, b. 1969
“Mopez,” leader of the Runners, 2012

Just as Po’Pay relied on runners to carry the message of the revolt in 1680, so the Runners of the Spirit World Army are needed to fight the Castilians in 2180.

Private collection
Virgil Ortiz
Cochiti Pueblo, b. 1969
Mopez jar, 2008

On this vessel, Mopez is drawing lightning down from the sky.

Collection of Michael and JoAnne Mandracchia


Virgil Ortiz
Cochiti Pueblo, b. 1969
“The Castilian,” 2180s invader, 2012

Private collection


Virgil Ortiz
Cochiti Pueblo, b. 1969
“Castilian I,” 2015

The Castilians wear the sleek armor, shield and weapons of 2180 warfare.

Collection of Lynn and Marc Appelbaum


Virgil Ortiz
Cochiti Pueblo, b. 1969
“Tahu,” leader of the Blind Archers, 2013

In 2180, the Spirit World Army includes archers who can fly and sense their target through highly developed powers that do not include sight. Tahu carries the knotted cords that are reminders of the cords Po’Pay and his runners carried in 1680 to the villages. Each day a knot would be untied, and when the final knot was untied, the villagers knew it was time to rise in revolt.

Private collection


Limited-edition prints from the “Revolt” series, 2008

“Turmoil” depicting a Blind Archer
“Invasion” depicting Castilian Soldiers
“Sacrifice” depicting the Runners
“Paralyzed” depicting Mopez, leader of the Runners

Aeronauts are Ortiz’s most recent addition to the Spirit World Army.


“The thought never crossed my mind to be anything other than an artist. Art is in my blood.” —Virgil Ortiz

Virgil Ortiz grew up in a creative environment in which storytelling, collecting clay, gathering wild plants, and producing figurative pottery were part of everyday life. “I didn’t even know it was art that was being produced while I was growing up,” he remembers. Ortiz lives and works in Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico.

An international audience became aware of Ortiz’s work as a result of a fashion clothing collaboration with Donna Karan, in which he created textiles utilizing his graphic decorative painting. Ortiz has since launched his own fashion line with designs that reference the motifs of Pueblo pottery and stories of Pueblo culture and history.

Ortiz’s professional plans include creating opportunities for children in his tribal community, where he hopes to create a nonprofit foundation that will offer summer art learning opportunities to Pueblo children. “Whatever they want to learn, the sky’s the limit. I really want them to believe in themselves, and I want to help pave the road and teach them all that I’ve learned. It’s important for them to learn traditional Cochiti culture and art forms, but also to think outside the box. To live as an artist these days and compete with anyone in the larger, non-Native art world, you must have both skill and versatility. I want to preserve my culture and inspire our youth to accomplish whatever it is they dream to be.

—Virgil Ortiz (


Sequoyah, Cherokee, c. 1763-1843




Roy Boney, Jr. ᎧᏂᎦ ᎪᎳᎭ
Cherokee, b. 1978
Sequoyah with I-Pad, 2015


Roy Boney, Jr. ᎧᏂᎦ ᎪᎳᎭ
Cherokee, b. 1978
“Simpquoyah,” 2015


The text on the tablet asks, “Do you understand Cherokee?”



In 1828, Charles Bird King painted a famous portrait of Sequoyah when the Cherokee leader was in Washington, D.C., to negotiate a treaty. In that portrait, Sequoyah is holding a tablet that shows the Cherokee syllabary he developed.


Sequoyah understood the importance of being able to communicate through writing before many of his fellow Cherokees did. After long study, he identified 85 different syllables that were combined to form words in the Cherokee language—a syllabary. Receiving approval for using the syllabary was difficult, as some thought it was witchcraft. At a trial, Sequoyah and his daughter proved that what they were writing was spoken words and not witchcraft. According to the Cherokee Nation website, within a very short time of the syllabary’s approval a significant portion of the Nation’s citizens were literate. Over time, the Cherokee syllabary has been transformed from the characters that were written with a quill pen to letters that could be used on a printing press and manual and electric typewriters, and finally a code that can be run on Windows and Apple operating systems.



“Between the years of 1809 and 1821, he accomplished a feat [that] no other person in history has done single-handedly.

—Cherokee Nation website (

Roy Boney, Jr. is full-blood member of Cherokee Nation. He grew up in a Cherokee-speaking home, but, like many of his generation, he experienced the generational language gap. This led him to becoming interested in perpetuating the Cherokee language through art and technology. His award-winning Cherokee artwork is widely exhibited, and he is also a freelance writer published in Indian Country Today, First American Art Magazine and Native Peoples. He works in a variety of media, ranging from traditional fine-art drawing and painting to digital illustration in graphic novels. He is a member of the Indigenous Narratives Collective, a group of Native comic-book creators whose goal is to support Natives in the comic-book industry. Boney has also focused some of his career on implementing Cherokee support in the technology industry so they syllabary can be emailed and spread across all forms of digital media, regardless of platform. Some of his projects have included including Cherokee as a default language on all Apple iOS devices, Windows 8 localization in Cherokee, and having Google’s search engine supporting search and a user interface in the Cherokee language.



Maria Tallchief (Osage), 1925-2013


Maria Tallchief’s success as a prima ballerina came after decades of work that began as a child in her home town of Fairfax, Oklahoma. Her first dance classes were in the summer when she was 3 years old. Seeking a higher level of musical and dance training for Maria and her sister, the family moved to Los Angeles, where she had to start over in her ballet training to unlearn some of what she had been taught.


At school, she experienced the pain of prejudice, with some students making war whoops when they saw her and making fun of her last name, “Tall Chief.” To try to fit in, she changed her last name to one word, “Tallchief.” With Bronislava Nijinska as her stern teacher, she learned that she had to practice beyond one and a half hours a day. She had to concentrate on how she stood and even how she slept. She would have to work very hard to become a ballerina.


Tallchief’s career in New York City began with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, where no one thought an American could reach the level of achievement that the Russian ballerinas could. After five years, she joined the New York City Ballet in 1947, becoming the company’s prima ballerina at the age of 22.


Tallchief had a long career, during which she became internationally recognized as one of the leading American ballerinas of the 20th century. In 1996, she was recognized by the Kennedy Center Honors. Among the many honors she received in her lifetime were honors from the Osage Nation and the State of Oklahoma, not simply for her achievements as a prima ballerina, but also for her pride in being an American Indian and bringing honor to the Osage Nation.


Arigon Starr
Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma
Maria Tallchief
Graphic art
©2015 Wacky Productions Unlimited

Find out more at


(Ledger art work depicting Tallchief)


Lauren Good Day Giago
Arikara/Hidatsa, b. 1987
“America’s First Prima Ballerina,” 2015
Paint on ledger paper


Gift of Kathleen L. and William G. Howard


As a ledger artist, Giago is one of a few women working in an art form historically created by men telling their stories. She enjoys telling the stories of American Indian women and celebrating their achievements.







In World War I and II, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War, American Indian soldiers used their Native languages to create unbreakable codes to transmit essential information on the battlefields. Many of the soldiers had been educated in boarding schools, where they were punished for speaking their native languages. Also, in World Wars I and II, many of the American Indian soldiers who were fighting for their country were not regarded as full citizens and did not have the right to vote. While some of the most numerous and best-known Code Talkers were Navajo soldiers fighting in World War II, in World War I Code Talkers from six tribes used their languages, of whom the most numerous were 19 Choctaw soldiers. In World War II, the American Indian Code Talker Program began in 1940 with the Chippewa/Oneida. Nineteen tribes participated in Code Talker units for the U.S. Army, U.S. Army Air Corps and U.S. Marines in World War II.


The entire Code Talker program was kept secret for many years after the end of the wars. The soldiers did not tell anyone what they had done until the records of the program were declassified, and many did not talk about it even then. Public recognition began in the 1980s. In 1986, the original Choctaw Code Talkers of World War I received posthumous Medals of Valor from the Choctaw Nation, and in 1989 France awarded those soldiers their National Order of Merit for major battles in France where the Code Talkers had played an important role in victory.


In 2000, the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II were recognized by President Bill Clinton with Congressional Gold or Silver Medals. In 2008, President George W. Bush signed the Code Talkers Recognition Act, which recognizes every Native American Code Talker who served in the U.S. military during World War I and II (with the exception of the already-awarded Navajo) with a Congressional Gold Medal.


The story of Choctaw soldiers Solomon Louis and Mitchell Bobb, who were the innovators of code talking in World War I, is contained in an exciting graphic novel titled Annumpa Luma—Code Talker by Arigon Starr in INC Comics’ “Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers.”

Annumpa Luma—Code Talker art created by Arigon Starr
© 2014 Wacky Productions Unlimited
Used courtesy of INC Comics



Sarah Winnemucca (Paiute), c. 1844-1891

At a time when the United States government and missionary organizations were forcing American Indian children into boarding schools, often far from home, where they were punished for speaking their Native languages, Sarah Winnemucca founded a school for Paiute children near Lovelock, Nevada in 1885. Support for her school was initially provided by Boston philanthropist Elizabeth Peabody.

Winnemucca was a strong believer in the importance of Paiute children receiving an education and learning English, in addition to retaining their knowledge of the Paiute language and traditions. Unlike the prevalent situation where families hid their children from government schools, parents willingly brought their children to Winnemucca’s school. Chronically short of funds and lacking any sort of government support, the school closed in 1889. It was not until 1909 that Paiute children were permitted to attend public schools. But for those four years, some Paiute children had the chance to learn English and tools to succeed in their changing surroundings while retaining their family connections and pride in their heritage. It was many decades before Indian children were given that opportunity again.

In 1883, Sarah Winnemucca became the first American Indian woman to write an autobiography. She called it Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims. It was reprinted by Sierra Media of Bishop, California, in 1969, with the author’s name listed as Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins. Read more about Sarah Winnemucca’s life in the biography Sarah Winnemucca by Sally Zanjani (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2001).

In 2005, 120 years after Winnemucca’s school opened, the State of Nevada donated a statue of Sarah Winnemucca to the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol as one of two individuals representing the state.


Sarah Winnemucca in the clothing she wore when giving lectures, c. 1883.

Photograph courtesy Nevada State Historical Society.

Before its installation in the National Statuary Hall, this bronze statue of Sarah Winnemucca by Benjamin Victor was posed for this March 2005 photograph in front of the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, Washington, D.C.
Photographer: Bob Harmon
© 2015 Benjamin Victor



Po’Pay (Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo), c. 1630-c. 1688

Po’Pay was a religious leader and healer in his pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh in what is now the State of New Mexico. When the Spanish invaded the region, the Native people were forced to provide food and labor to the settlers and the Catholic Church. They were forced to become Christian and were forbidden to practice their Native religion. Failure to obey meant torture and sometimes execution.


In 1675, Po’Pay was convicted of sorcery and flogged for practicing his religion. In 1680, he led a revolt of the Pueblos. Runners went out to all of the pueblos with knotted deerskin strips; they were supposed to untie one knot each day, with the revolt beginning on the day the last knot was untied. When two runners were captured, the revolt had to move forward two days. Ultimately, the Pueblo Revolt succeeded in driving the Spanish from New Mexico for 12 years, with reforms instituted upon their return.

In 1997, the State of New Mexico chose Po’Pay as one of its two historical figures to represent the state in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol.


Jason Garcia
Santa Clara Pueblo, b. 1973
“Pueblo Revolt August 10, 1680,” 2004


The figures on the left are rendering payment imposed by the ecomienda system of the Spanish. Jason Garcia meant the boy to represent the forced labor that was a form of payment.


See Garcia’s tile in the Heard Museum’s signature exhibit HOME: Native People in the Southwest. Photograph by Craig Smith, 4297-1.


Credit Panel

Super Heroes: Art! Action! Adventure is generously supported by
Virginia M. Ullman Foundation
JP Morgan Private Bank Chase




Spider-Man figure based on Tobey Maguire film portrayal of the superhero.


Michelangelo wearable costume.


Master Splinter wearable costume.


Wonder Woman costume from the TV series; courtesy of The Azarian Collection, owner,


Spider-Man web shooter from the TV series; courtesy of The Azarian Collection, owner,


Batman figure based on Christian Bale’s portrayal in Batman Begins, 2005.

Green Lantern figure based on Ryan Reynolds’ film portrayal in 2011.

Green Lantern Power Battery based on 2011 film, Green Lantern

Green Lantern Power Ring based on 2011 film, Green Lantern.

Batman and Robin figures distributed by Hamilton Gifts, 1988.

Thor’s Hammer, Mjölnir

Batman Bolo Ties, 1966