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Acting, importance of culture played big roles in Saginaw Grant’s life

Saginaw Grant met with tribal students in 2014 at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood. (Beverly Bidney)

Saginaw Grant, a distinguished Native American actor and hereditary chief and citizen of the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma, passed away from natural causes July 27 at age 85.

Grant’s face may have been unmistakable from movies and television, but his acting career started accidentally more than 30 years ago. While attending a writing seminar near San Francisco, a director noticed him and asked if he would appear in a car commercial. He said yes and his Hollywood career began. His first movie was “War Party” in 1988. Since then he has been featured in television shows and movies, including “Breaking Bad” and “The Lone Ranger.”

He received a lifetime achievement award from the Oceanside International Film Festival in 2014 and was the recipient of the American Legacy Award from the San Diego Film Festival.

Seminole singer, songwriter, performer and actor Spencer Battiest and Saginaw Grant hold the NAMMY awards they won in 2016. (Courtesy photo)

During a 2014 visit to the Seminole Tribe, he said the highlight of his career was meeting and connecting with people. Acting was Grant’s profession, but his passion was preserving and protecting Native American culture.

Grant spoke to tribal students at an education expo at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood during his visit, but his words were meant for adults as well. His mission was to ensure the future is filled with Native Americans who are proud of their heritage and work to keep their culture alive.

“The responsibility of an elder is to pass on the traditions and culture of our people,” Grant said in Hollywood. “Your responsibility is to listen to what your grandfather told you. Learn your language and do the things our people have done for centuries.”

In 2016, 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 the NAMA record of the year.

Seminole performing artist Spencer Battiest won a NAMA for best pop recording in 2016 for “Stupid in Love” and spent some time with Grant then and when he won record of the year in 2018.

“It was an amazing night,” Battiest recalled. “His words attached to the music he presented was awe inspiring. The few times we’ve crossed paths over the years were always special to me. We were blessed to have him on this earth.”

Although Grant planned to pursue an apology from the U.S. government similar to the one the Canadian government made to First Nations about Canada’s past actions against Indigenous people, he didn’t dwell on the negative.

“Say to yourself when you wake up, today’s going to be a good day,” he said. “Don’t focus on the negative. We all know right from wrong, we just need to do the right thing.”

Grant was a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and served in the Korean War. He often participated in the National Gathering of American Indian Veterans and danced at pow wows throughout Indian Country.

Some of Grant’s notable quotes were posted on his Facebook page after his death:

“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.”

Grant died peacefully in his sleep at a private care facility in Hollywood, California, according to his publicist and longtime friend Lani Carmichael.

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at