Wes Studi is a common name in many Indigenous households across the U.S. and Canada. Throughout his career, he has represented many tribal nations and spoken many tribal languages in over 80 films and TV productions. After challenging the Hollywood stereotype through his character portrayals, Studi has made Oscar history at the age of 71. He is the first Indigenous actor to win an oscar. Studi began by saying, “It’s about time!”
Although he has portrayed and spoken languages of various tribes, the most important portrayal and language spoken is that of his own. Studi is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Fellow member of the Cherokee Nation, Kynze Ross, expresses her gratitude toward Studi.
Incidentally, Ross has something of a connection to Studi, he is a friend of her late great uncle, Jackson Ross, and owes Ross five dollars. After news of Studi’s oscar, Ross “… knew he could do it.” She went on to say, “It’s pretty cool, because not only is he representing Indigenous peoples of the Americas, but he is representing the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. He plays a big role. It’s basically a big shoutout to us. I don’t know if he knows or not, but he is representing the Cherokees very well.” To close his acceptance speech at the Oscars, Studi spoke in the Cherokee language.
“Thank you to the Cherokee people.
Thank you to all my elders.
Thank you to all my teachers.
Thank you for letting me be here.
Thank you for letting me be here.”
After translating the speech with her father, Stanley, Ross felt touched and inspired. She said, “I felt a sense of pride because our language is a dying language. I am still learning my language. It was very touching because he recognizes our elders and teachers, which is rarely done today. It was inspiring to hear a fellow Cherokee speaking the Cherokee language to non-Cherokee people in a place far away from home.”
In addition to Ross’ connection to Studi, another member of the Haskell community has a connection of their own. Joshua Arce (Prairie Band Potawatomi of KS & Kickapoo Nation of KS), HINU’s Chief Information Officer had the opportunity to volunteer with the Partnership With Native Americans at the pre-awards show before the Oscar ceremony. Arce was able to meet and converse with Studi.
“It was really surreal, because you see him in movies. When you actually meet him and shake his hand, you see that he’s a very down to earth, very funny, super friendly, high class, high caliber guy.”, said Arce on meeting Studi.
He continued, “There aren’t enough Natives in mainstream roles. I think there are a lot of upcoming actors and actresses that have the skills to be on major feature films and that really shows that it’s not just a niche market. It needs to be more public, more open, and more accessible because tribes are nationwide. There is no reason why there shouldn’t be more tribal representation in media because there are 577 federally recognized tribes. We need to be a part of all conversations, whether it’s in film or politics at any level.”