FSM Media

by Dianna Ranere

INTERVIEW: Tantoo Cardinal of “Stumptown” on Acting, Activism and Shelter at Home

Story and Interview courtesy of Bolte Media


Tantoo Cardinal, the Iconic, award-winning Indigenous actress who portrays Sue Lynn Blackbird on the ABC primetime hit series “Stumptown,” is an inspirational female leader.

As an actress, she has been a visible and vocal advocate for authentic, relevant, contemporary, and historical representations of Indigenous peoples in film, tv, and theater.

As an activist, she has marched, protested, supported, and spoken out for causes from Indigenous rights, protecting the earth, opposing pipelines and strip mining, and the inequity of justice for Black, Indigenous, and people of color.

As a mother, sister, aunt, and grandmother, she’s indulged herself during the quarantine in continuing development on a one-woman show as well as re-igniting her passion for cooking.

Tantoo has had an introspective, authentic, yet revelatory shelter-at-home since March. She mentored Indigenous youth through Zoom chats, discussing and supporting their dreams of breaking into entertainment in the Americas. She is in EMMY consideration for her portrayal of Blackbird on “Stumptown,” one of the few Indigenous actors on Primetime network TV.

Her Canadian Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards Foundation Laureates award – which she was to have received alongside Ryan Reynolds and Catherine O’Hara – has shifted to 2021. She has kept her promise to attend and speak at many commencement ceremonies, Totem Raising, and community events in 2021

But, so far, the highlight has been the season two pickup for “Stumptown.” It allows her the opportunity to continue portraying tribal leader Sue Lynn Blackbird in the ABC series. As the series preps for production, the actress is excited to finish out her summer even if the trajectory changed.


Q: Congratulations on season two! What does that signify for you regarding portraying Sue Lynn Blackbird on “Stumptown”?

Tantoo: It indicates these creators are farsighted and courageous. Most folks in this country don’t realize we still exist! Visibility matters. I stand with the Black Lives Matter movement. I am heartened by the diversity and passion of allies putting their bodies on the line in support of this Truth. Indigenous, Black people, people of color share a history of colonialism and slavery. The “need/urge?” to corral and enslave us has fed the creation of a robust Police system.

We are, at this moment in history, in the process of doctoring this system to reflect that we are no longer in slavery and we are decolonizing our heads, hearts, souls, minds, bodies, and communities. I am glad to be part of a series that provides for more visibility that is so crucial toward understanding and balance in relationships.

Q: Is it an acknowledgment by the audience and studio that people want to see a character of Native heritage in an authentic role?

I think people want to see real humans and interesting stories with new angles. I think most folks don’t realize there is a difference between our worlds. Dex is such a fabulous character – so well positioned to appreciate the community that we are. Many people in this country have relationships with our communities, despite the segregation. I’m pretty sure they are welcoming.

Q: What role does Sue Lynn play in your career? Is she unique? Is she different than other roles?

Sue Lynn is taking me into another arena. She is in a highly visible place for our stories.

I have always tried to tell the Truth of our women. We are tough and hard to bluff out of necessity. Sue Lynn provides an opportunity to reveal more sides to our story, our persistent existence.

Q: As an actress, what nuances of Sue Lynn did you portray in season one, and how would you want to see her develop in season two?

As an actress, I tried to fill the moments as best I could… bringing my sense of reality and Truth of experience as the scene allows. I am part of an ensemble. I am interested in what the creators pursue. I trust them to have a forward thrust, and what interests them is fun thus far.

Q: How did you portray these nuances?

By recognizing them.

Q: Is there a pivotal episode for you performance-wise?

This job is pivotal. This character is a joy to inhabit. To me, only the audience can tell what is essential.

Q: How did you decide to become an actor?

The universe gave me the clue. I was led into it by my love and drive to honor and respect my people and community.

Q: What does being an actor mean to you?

Being an actor means I have accepted a huge responsibility to carry the stories of human experience. I stand in the circle where the kernel explodes to reveal who we are as humans in relationship to all around us.

Q: What does portraying Sue Lynn Blackbird mean to you?

It means we’ve come a long way from the world where Indigenous women are barely in the story.

Q: To Native and Indigenous peoples?

You’d have to ask Them, but the impression I get is that there is an appreciation to begin showing some of the power we are in our communities. There is a desire for more depth, more revelation, and Fun!

Q: How have you been spending your time during the shelter at home orders?

I have been reveling in the luxury of having nowhere to go, no constant switching through time zones, no schedules to pinch, and knit together. No characters to prepare. No scripts to read. Sharing with young actors on zoom is the BEST! It’s been an erasure of tics and obligations like never before. I realized that without all those mentioned above…I am back to Me. What is My character development? What is My script? A rare privilege and obligation. It has been my job in Isolation to get in touch with my inner foundations…erase all the knots and ties from what existed before…and see what still applies. It is odd, lovely, bizarre, compelling, magical, etc. to be alone and yet so a part of a mass of experience. Alone in the world but so connected to the entire planet…. Wow!

What a trip. I almost hate to see it end, …but for the misery of so much poverty. I appreciate all that it has revealed about the frays in our society.

Q: What do you hope for the world coming out of quarantine?

I hope that the right people will realize the right things and thereby strengthen our experience as humans and create a healthier society for all living things. I had hoped we would develop more respect for all our relatives in the structures of this man-made civilization, but that, my relatives, will take more misery and humility I’m afraid. Money, Power, Fear? Those continue to be a blinder to realize our Oneness. However, I am hopeful. Now that blatant racism, caught on tape in the light of day, costing the beautiful soul of George Floyd his life, is a blow to the fortress wall that has been effective toward denying such conscious acts of racism. Together we stand. Together we elevate our voices. Together our beauty shines as we celebrate, uplift, and support each other!

Q: You had several awards and honors scheduled for March through June that postponed – the Governor General award, being the featured speaker at commencement exercises at numerous colleges, Totem Raising – when you heard of their postponements how did you feel?

At first, it was WHAT?!! I had finally reached the place where I had the resources and the schedule to complete some long-dreamed projects as well as those symbols of accomplishments you mentioned. But in the next instant, I became enveloped and mesmerized by this Occurrence. I was praying for mercy from the virus at the same time as recognizing the critical work that was being done by it.

Q: How important is it to the culture that these celebrations continue even if it’s in 2021?

I think these events are essential for celebrating milestones, community, and the constant endeavors of our society. The Totem Pole Raising I consider necessary medicine in solidarity.

It is also a symbol of emancipation. The other events are more about celebration, accomplishment, community.

Q: Zoom, Skype, or Face Time? Which did you use more during the quarantine?

Zoom for biz.

Face time for family and friends.

Q: What skill(s) did you learn during quarantine?

Meditation, yoga, cooking – my daughter bought me a food subscription box, journaling, avoiding other humans.

I loved getting back into cooking because of my food boxes and not having to worry about having all the ingredients. I like eating organic and non-GMO.