Native Americans Giving Back: Wes Studi

“Why don’t Native Americans help each other? We hear this question often. The answer is, they do… wealthy tribes assist other tribes, Indian gaming creates new jobs, tribes partner in sustainability projects… But, we want this to hit home for our readers, so we are launching the “Native Americans Giving Back” series to feature Native American celebrities who are philanthropists and humanitarians that care about the same causes we do – and the series starts now with our first celeb:  Wes Studi.

Credited with changing the stereotype of Native Americans in film through more than 80 diverse and nontraditional roles, Wes Studi is perhaps best known for The Last of the Mohicans, Dances With Wolves, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Geronimo: An American Legend, We Shall Remain, and Avatar, as well as TV series Streets of Laredo, The Mentalist and Hell on Wheels. An acclaimed actor, musician, author and winner of several First Americans in the Arts awards and the Santa Fe Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award, Studi wa also inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Hall of Great Western Performers in 2013. Eldest son of a ranch hand, he was born in Oklahoma and spoke only Cherokee until he was 5 years old. Although he attended and graduated from an Indian boarding school, he never forgot his Native tongue.

It is fair to say that Wes started giving back publicly when he joined the U.S. Army and asked to serve in Vietnam. At one point in the Mekong Delta, he was nearly killed by friendly fire. After an honorable discharge, Wes became a political advocate for Native Americans, joining the American Indian Movement (AIM) and supporting the Wounded Knee occupation that brought global attention to the policies and conditions forced upon Native Americans in the U.S. Embracing ever more seriously his desire to be a vehicle for positive change, he then worked for the Cherokee Nation and helped start the Cherokee Phoenix, a newspaper that is still published today. Recognizing the importance of cultural ties, Wes also taught the Cherokee language at Northeastern University in Tahlequah, OK. In 1983, he began acting at The American Indian Theatre Company in Tulsa, viewing it as a healthy outlet for his feelings.

Wes Studi, pub. at

Wes Studi, pub. at

When we look at Wes Studi, the humanitarian, he is actively giving back to Native communities through the use of his natural talents. This begins with actively encouraging next-gen filmmakers and actors through mentoring and apprenticeship programs. It continues with regularly contributing to nutrition and health concerns similar to those we support. For instance, Wes uses his acting talent to help organizations get critical messages to tribes throughout the U.S. and Canada.

In a PSA for the CDC’s Traditional Foods Project, Wes encouraged reclaiming traditional foods as a way of bringing balance to diabetes in Native American cultures. In a PSA for the I.H.S., Wes spoke about flu prevention and treatment and the need for flu vaccines. Did you know the risk of H1N1 flu is four times higher for Native Americans? Wes also supports the Dreamcatcher Charitable Foundation, a Canadian charity focused on developing youth as future leaders in First Nation communities.

We congratulate Wes Studi for his success as a Native American actor and as a humanitarian in support of Native American peoples, cultures and causes. And, we hope this first topic has been enlightening for our readers. If you’re a fan of Adam Beach, Martha Redbone or Buffy Sainte-Marie, Graham Greene or Jana Mashonee, or Chaske Spencer and Kiowa Gordon of Twilight fame, stay tuned for more!!

“Native Americans Giving Back” is a blog series that features Native American celebrities who are giving back to Indian country and supporting the same types of causes we support. The series will run periodically through year-end 2014 and feature topics from all of our regular blog writers.

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