He grew up in the Cherokee Nation in eastern Oklahoma, where Cherokees have lived since the Trail of Tears. Just over a century later, Studi was born in a valley called Nofire Hollow, where he also spent his childhood.

The new film Hostiles tells the story of a U.S. Army captain in the Old West circa 1892. He's spent decades fighting Native Americans and seeing his friends killed, and he's ordered to commit an act of humanitarian relief. The bitter veteran, played by Christian Bale, is tasked with escorting an old Cheyenne chief, played by Wes Studi, back to his home valley to die.

In the film, Studi only speaks a few words of English. His character's most powerful moments come when he conveys meaning with a gesture or expression.

Studi, 70, is himself Cherokee. He was a Vietnam veteran and a Native American rights activist before he found roles, usually playing Native Americans, in films like Dances With Wolves and The Last Of The Mohicans.

"In the beginning, we were pretty much subsistence farmers and hunters," he says. "As a child, I remember going into town by wagon one time and it was an all-day journey."

We didn't have electricity, but we did have relatives who lived above and beyond the hollow that we lived in. They were one of the first families in the area, in the Cherokee Nation, to have electricity. And that was the first time I ever saw television, was when I was maybe 4 years old or thereabouts. And what we did was we trekked 5, 6 miles up from our home to our cousin's home to watch Saturday night wrestling. Yeah, that was the first that we ever encountered electricity and television and what we consider, you know, part of the modern world these days.

It was kind of a combination of the aftereffect of Vietnam in a way, in that — I won't say I was addicted or a junkie of adrenaline — but, you know, I tried a number of fairly dangerous things just to kick that off in my brain again. You know, it's something that I'm afraid I got too used to it perhaps. ... I tried bull-riding. ... I wasn't good at all, I don't think I ever got eight seconds anywhere.

But then after that, I discovered acting through community theater. And what I saw in community theater was you could learn your lines and do rehearsals and all of that, but finally opening night shows up and you're in the wings and I rediscovered that huge wall of fear. And to me, that provided that amount of excitement and adrenaline rush.

At times, you're welcome, depending on what's being cast. Dances with Wolves — they wanted authentic-looking Indians in the film, and so they got it. The same was true with The Last of the Mohicans and Geronimo.

And I think audiences have begun to wonder more about these characters than just the antagonist part of most Indian films. We were the threat ... in many movies. But [at] that time, filmmakers were beginning to think that "Wow, well, maybe we can find some real Indians to do this rather than, like, brown-facing actors." And so it formed a curiosity by the public to see: "So they're really here still yet, huh? So the genocide we tried on them didn't work? They're still around — and trying to get into the movie business."

Responses to "Wes Studi On His Cherokee Nation Childhood And How He Discovered Acting"

  1. Unknown says:


  2. Unknown says:

    Wes Sutdi has done a great deal to put a human face on Native American's.

    As a kid, young, I remember checking out the "Last of the Mohicans" but was unable to get through it because of the archaic writing but I tried. When I was in middle school, my interest continued and devoted a history project to the days to days lives of Native Americans and specifically those of the plains I won county and went to state in Louisiana. As I went into high school that evolved into the political dynamics of AIM and Leonard Peltier.

    By then I moved to Cheyenne due to growing up on military bases. I continued this interest with my readings of Ward Churchill and Sherman Alexi.
    In the mid-90s, I worked on congressional campaign that took me to Freemont County where the Wind River Reservation is located, Arapahoe and Shoshini. When I inquired about the Res, I was told "we leave them alone." It made no sense to me since they are voters and was able to set a meeting with the Chief of the Wind River. I went with another fella I was working with. He was from the east coast and really did not know what to do with him self in that part of the country.
    We met with the Chief and his right hand man. He did not speak. I asked the Chief if he believe if it would be a good idea for those on the Res if I came out, had a meeting as ask if they would like to set up a voter registration program for the elections.
    In a few days, I received a call and was told to return. When I returned, the Chief and his man sat across from us, he nodded at me, got up and went into the other room. His assistant looked at me and said, "You are not the first to come her and propose what you proposed but you are the first to come here and ask the chief if he thought it was a good idea. For the next two months, I focused on the Res and had our first meeting that was attended by over one hundred people. There were two dozen in fatigues having returned from the first gulf war.
    They had a long spread of food and treated me so well. The guy I was with had said he had never experienced anything like it. One of the biggest challenges for members to vote was transportation and on election day, we had organized buses, a dozen shool buses, that ran a route all day until polls closed. It was one of the most monumental things I have done in my life. I was told later that that push was followed by the Arapahoe and Shoshone having a permanent political program. 13,000 votes in a state of around 500,000 people, not voters, is a big deal.
    The first movie my now deceased wife went to early on when we met in Seattle was "Smoke Signals." I remember watching Last of the Mohicans as a kid and the role Wes played. I have scene a lot of his films. The film Hostiles he did with Christian Bale was excellent.
    The resurrection of the Native American Indian movement with the actions in North Dakota has been an important event in all of American even though some do not realize it. Russel Banks home was recently saved by someone in the family from being torn down.
    Wes Studi had a lot to do with my interests and continued interest that led me to the Wind River. Another big motivator was hearing the word, "Skins" being used by the locals. I was asked by a local, "Why are you wasting your time with those Skins?" and was just amazed I did not smack him. I told him, "They are not Skins, they are Americans and voters." I am still amazed I did not smack him. Growing up in the military, I saw the racism around the country and especially in Louisiana and grew up in enlisted housing which was very diverse. Some communities talk about Genocide but what happened to the Native American population was genocide and American's forget there are reservations still today as a reminder. So I thank Wes Studi for his art, work, and life he has lived. He gave me much for having never met him.

  3. Unknown says:

    I so enjoy everything I have been learning about this amazing man/actor and who he really is. All that I have learned makes me appreciate everything about him and what he does. My favorite movie is Geronimo---I have "Last of the Mohicans" and I just got Hostiles---but was kind of disappointed there was not a lot of Wes Studi shown---a very good movie though for sure. All of his movies are excellent.

Write a comment