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‘True Detective’ Star Kali Reis Embraces Her Afro-Indigenous Heritage: “I Have Two Rooms I Can Stand In”

Kali Reis does not take her identity for granted.

“I’m the first generation of my line who was actually able to grow up in the culture,” said the True Detective: Night Country star of being from the Seaconke Wampanoag people. “My great-grandmother, grandmother, mother were taught, generation after generation, ‘You don’t say you’re Wamp.’”

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She explained that New England, where she grew up, was a hostile place for Wampanoag people even as recently as 20 years ago, with hostility tracing back to bloodshed between the tribe and the British colonists in King Philip’s War in the 17th century. (The Seaconke are not one of the two Wampanoag tribes recognized by the federal government.)

Reis’ comments came from the stage at a brunch on Friday that was the capper to the 15th annual Native Women in Film Festival, a weeklong event that saw the screening of 45 films. The actress, a former world champion boxer, received the Misty Upham Award for her continued advocacy on behalf of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement, which during her athletic career included placing a handprint on her boxing trunks to draw awareness to the issue and led to her casting (and co-story credit) in her Indie Spirit-nominated debut, 2022’s Catch the Fair One.

The day before the Native women’s brunch, which was held at the Four Seasons, Reis was at the Academy Museum for the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards (she is also of Cape Verdean descent). “I have two rooms that I can stand in,” she said. “It’s really empowering to finally be in a place where I don’t feel like I have to keep my head down and not be accepted. I get to represent two very resilient, amazing people that are still here.”

Also speaking at the brunch were trailblazing Alaska Native and First Nations actress Irene Bedard, Killers of the Flower Moon actor Tatanka Means (son of the late Oglala Lakota activist Russell Means), Montana Film Office commissioner Allison Whitmer and RNCI board member Susan Masten, as well as L.A. supervisor Lindsey Horvath and allies Rebecca Brando (daughter of Marlon, and also an RNCI board member) and actress Mary McDonnell. The brunch was presented by the Red Nation Celebration Institute, an organization founded in 1995 by filmmaker and actress Joanelle Romero.

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