LOS ANGELES — Legendary American Indian actor Saginaw Grant walked on to the spirit world Tuesday, July 27, 2021. Grant was a widely respected elder in Indian Country. He was the hereditary chief and a respected citizen of the Sac and Fox Nation in Oklahoma  with blood ties to the Iowa and Otoe-Missouria Nations. He was 85.

The announcement of his passing was posted on his Facebook page:

“It’s with heavy hearts we announce a warrior has been called home. Saginaw Morgan Grant, the hereditary chief and medicine man of the Sac & Fox tribe, traveled the world speaking of his traditions, his experiences, his sobriety and his faith as both a Native American and a Christian.”

Want more Native News? Get the free daily newsletter today.

Born in Pawnee, Okla. in 1936, Grant did not become an actor until later in life. However, once he took up acting, he felt enormous pride in sharing culture through films, television programs and public speaking. He admitted that he never aspired to be an actor, but when someone approached him to ask him to be a part of a Chrysler automobile commercial, he said yes and his acting career was launched. Since that day, he has starred in many films like the "Lone Ranger" with Johnny Depp, "Breaking Bad" and "The World’s Fastest Indian" with Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins. 

A recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014 at the Oceanside International Film Festival, Grant offered some advice about respect during an interview.

“Respect everyone regardless of what color, regardless of what belief. We’re all people. We all have feelings. We all know right from wrong. A lot of us take that wrong road, and it hurts us,” Grant said.

“Teach the children the traditions of our past. “Every nation, every people needs to keep their traditions. To remember who they are. Be proud. Remember, If you know who you are, you will always get somewhere on Mother Earth.” Grant continued in the interview.

A true believer in keeping Native American traditions and culture alive, Grant toured Indian Country on the powwow circuit.

“If we lose our traditions, we lose our people,” he said. Grant always made sure that people heard and understood his message of strength in spirituality and tradition. Many people describe Grant as humble, respectful, and above all, traditional. 

Grant was presented the Living Legend Award by the Native American Music Awards (NAMA). In 2018, his album “Don’t Let the Drums Go Silent” received Record of the Year from NAMA.

Want to support Native News? Make a donation today.

Last year soon after the Covid-19 pandemic hit the United States, Grant released the following statement that was featured on Native News Online:

“This isolation is temporary for most, but for many elders what you are now experiencing is the norm. It is human nature to come together in times of crisis, but this time we are having to stay apart for the health and safety of one another. Take this opportunity to get to know yourself and what’s important. Take this time to reflect on God’s purpose for you. Check on others and let them know you care. Take a moment to find the beauty in a negative situation...spend extra time with someone and let them know they’re loved. Recognize the opportunities you have in every situation, know that your choices in a crisis define who you are, let this define you in a positive light.”

He cherished being a veteran. Grant served in the United States military as part of the U.S. Marine Corp during the Korean War. He bore the mark of this service as a proud reminder and had a deep love for bulldogs (the mascot for the Marine Corp).

Grant attended the first National Gathering of American Indian Veterans event at Trickster Cultural Center in Schaumburg, Ill. He attended the event every year thereafter until Covid-19 struck.

Saginaw Grant on a visit to Trickster Cultural Center, near Chicago. (Photo/Trickster Cultural Center)

“Meeting this Hollywood actor for the first time was amazing. Many people didn’t know that he was a Native Korean veteran, especially those in Hollywood,” Joseph Podlasek,  CEO of Trickster Cultural Center and national organizer of the National Gathering of American Indian Veterans, said to Native News Online on Thursday. “We became good friends at our first encounter, and he was such a down to earth man, nothing like I had expected a Hollywood actor to be. His video interview contributed to our Trickster films, which was nominated for an Emmy in 2019. He loved coming to Trickster and engaging with friends annually, including more of his people from Oklahoma.”

Grant, a multi-talented individual, not only acted, but also was a jewelry maker, dancer and artist. It was through these things that Grant expressed his value for tradition and respect. 

Earlier this year, Grant lost a nephew and his sister Stella who both passed away from Covid-19.

Funeral arrangements were pending at press time. May he rest in power. 

Notable quotes by Saginaw Grant

From “Legacy of Saginaw Grant” (2014) by Native Driven Network.

“Everyone on earth is born with spirituality.”

“Remember to take your time. When you take your time, you’ll take in everything that comes into your life and not just rush through it.” 

“If everyone used the philosophies that I talked about, this would be a completely different world. There would be no more wars. There would be truthful negotiations. People would believe as one, it would be a different place.”

Neely Bardwell, a Native News Online intern from Michigan State University, contributed to this article.

More Stories Like This

San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Surprises Native Nonprofits with $1M in Donations on #GivingTuesday
Biden Affirms Commitment to Tribal Nations, Announces New Initiatives at White House Tribal Nations Summit
PHOTOS: The White House Tribal Nations Summit
WATCH: The White House Tribal Nations Summit 
Tribal Leaders to Attend First In-person White House Tribal Nations Summit in Six Years

You’re reading the first draft of history. 

November is  Native American Heritage Month in the United States. We feel like every month — and every day — is a reason for celebrating Native Americans and our heritage. That’s what we try to do here at Native News Online, with stories each day that celebrate, inform and uplift American Indian and Alaska Native people. Over the past year or so, we have been especially busy with three important reporting projects that are having an impact across Indian Country:

  • Indian Boarding Schools. We’ve reported and published more than 150 stories and special live stream video events to help shine a light on the dark era of boarding schools — and help create momentum for change.
  • Native Health Desk. Launched in January, this reporting initiative was created to heighten awareness of Native American health inequities and spotlight pockets of progress in Indian Country. So far we’ve reported and published nearly 120 stories and launched a monthly health newsletter that reaches more than 23,000 readers.  
  • Native Bidaske. In March, we launched this live stream interview program to highlight the work of Native Americans who are making news and leading change in Indian Country.  We have hosted guests from the federal government and Native rights advocates as well as Indigenous actors, comedians, journalists and models.   

We hope you will join us in celebrating Native American heritage and history this November and invite you to consider the old adage that “Journalism is the first draft of history.” If you appreciate the voice Native News Online gives to Native American people, we hope you will support our work with a donation so we can build our newsroom and continue to amplify Native voices and Native perspectives.

Any contribution — big or small — helps us remain a force for change in Indian Country and continue telling the stories that are so often ignored, erased or overlooked.  Most often, our donors make a one-time gift of $20 or more, while many choose to make a recurring monthly donation of $5 or $10.  Whatever you can do, it helps fund our Indigenous-led newsroom and our ability to cover Native news. 

Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you. 

About The Author
Levi Rickert
Author: Levi RickertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected]