December 11, 2009

Angelina Jolie, Iroquois?

A reader writes:Very interesting site. I was wondering if you have any opinion on celebrities other than Johnny Depp claiming to be have Native American ancestry. I'm especially intrigued by the case of Angelina Jolie claiming to be part Iroquois from her mother since the rumor (factoid?) often given on the internet is that it would be inaccurate to refer to herself as an Iroquois since that constitutes a confederacy and not a single tribe/ethnic group. Is there any truth to this?Rob's reply:

This is about all I know on the subject:

Angelina Jolie in blackface
Angelina's Native connection

If Angelina is only a small part Iroquois, she shouldn't call herself Native. And I don't think she has.

I think Angelina's mother was the one calling herself "Iroquois." If Angelina used "Iroquois," she probably was emulating her mother. She may not have understood what it meant or how imprecise it was.

I imagine her mother used "Iroquois" because she didn't know her ancestry more exactly. Which suggests the ancestral connection was weak.

Here's what Wikipedia says about Jolie and her mother:

Angelina JolieBorn in Los Angeles, California, Jolie is the daughter of actors Jon Voight and Marcheline Bertrand. She is the niece of Chip Taylor, sister of James Haven and the god-daughter of Jacqueline Bisset and Maximilian Schell. On her father's side, Jolie is of Czechoslovakian and German descent, and on her mother's side she is French Canadian and is said to be part Iroquois. However, Voight has claimed Bertrand was "not seriously Iroquois," and they merely said it to enhance his ex-wife's exotic background.Marcheline BertrandBertrand was born in Riverdale, Illinois, the daughter of Lois June (née Gouwens) and Rolland F. Bertrand. She had a brother, Raleigh Bertrand, and a sister Debbie Bertrand. She was of French-Canadian and Iroquoian descent on her father's side, and is a descendant of Zacharie Cloutier.

Life and career

Bertrand married actor Jon Voight on December 12, 1971. The couple had two children: actor James Haven and actress Angelina Jolie. Bertrand and Voight separated in 1976 and filed for divorce in 1978, which was finalized on April 14 1980. In 1978, Bertrand met documentary filmmaker Bill Day (Saviors of the Forest and Missionary Positions, among others). Day and Bertrand lived together for 12 years in Beverly Hills and New York City. Numerous miscarriages ended their hopes of having their own children. As business partners in Woods Road Productions, they developed a film project called Amazonia and sold it to film director Ridley Scott, but the project never took off.

After 1993, Bertrand turned her attention toward producing. She was the executive producer of a documentary Trudell, about Native American activist John Trudell. It was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005.
Whatever her ancestry, Bertrand took an interest in Native causes. She shared her activist bent with her daughter Angelina, who has taken up causes such as refugee and immigrant children.

Could we say Marcheline Bertrand's Native activism inspired Angelina Jolie's humanitarian work? Yes, I think we could.

P.S. You asked about other Native actors. I try to write about anyone who gets a Native role while claiming to be Native. There have been a few cases recently--e.g., Tinsel Korey.

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