Native Americans In Film - Johnny Depp's Tonto

Potowatomi Nation: Northeastern United States

Potawatomi Clothing at the Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois. This is what the original Tonto in the first written manuscripts would have worn.
Potawatomi Clothing at the Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois. This is what the original Tonto in the first written manuscripts would have worn. | Source

Four Native American Nations

At least four Native North American Nations are involved with the portrayal of the fictional Tonto and this fact opens new opportunities to understand America's history and that of her Indigenous Peoples.

For a Lone Ranger film re-make, Johnny Depp read a lot of historic materials before his portrayal of Tonto, yet some of the public complain about his taking on the role. They feel that to do so was disrespectful to the memory of Jay Silverheels and Indigenous peoples.

Some hobbyists and some professional critics complain that Depp is not an "Indian" or not "enough of an Indian" to play Tonto.

Many of these voices may simply be seeking attention for themselves. We see that behavior more and more with each new film release, especially since the passing of Roger Ebert. I would like to see Mr. Ebert's review of current critics, if he were still alive.

Historic Native North American Photos

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Chief Kack-Kack of the Prairie Band of Potawatomi, ca. 1925.Dick King, Potawatomi [Parry Island, Ontario] in 1928. Photographer Fred Johnson began anthropological studies as a teenager with anthropologist Frank G. Speck (1881-1951) in Quebec. Little Chief, his wife Minnie, and son
Chief Kack-Kack of the Prairie Band of Potawatomi, ca. 1925.
Chief Kack-Kack of the Prairie Band of Potawatomi, ca. 1925. | Source
Dick King, Potawatomi [Parry Island, Ontario] in 1928. Photographer Fred Johnson began anthropological studies as a teenager with anthropologist Frank G. Speck (1881-1951) in Quebec.
Dick King, Potawatomi [Parry Island, Ontario] in 1928. Photographer Fred Johnson began anthropological studies as a teenager with anthropologist Frank G. Speck (1881-1951) in Quebec. | Source
Little Chief, his wife Minnie, and son
Little Chief, his wife Minnie, and son | Source

Native Heritage

Many Americans have Native North American heritage, although some do not know it and some deny it. Others are pleased about the fact. How much "Indian blood" does it take to be "Indian?"

Depp's great-great grandmother was full Cherokee, making Kentuckian Johnny Depp 1/16 or 6.25% Native American, if no other native married into his blood line.

Elvis Presley was 3.125% Cherokee, his great-great-great grandmother being a full Cherokee. The Native American bloodline of Cherokee Nation makes Presley and Depp distant relations.

How much Indian does one need to be to satisfy the critics in a fictional film role?

Many well known peope are of Cherokee descent (see Cherokee VIPs) and producers could proobably find Cereokee actors to portray Tonto, if they wanted a Cherokee.

However, Johnny Depp was adopted into the Comanche Nation and Tonto became a Comanche. Why not a Cherokee? This I do not know.

About Kemo Sabe, a Campground

1933 radio series of The lone Ranger: ...'Kemo Sabe,' a phrase that is derived from the name of a boys' summer camp in Michigan owned by the director's uncle." Reference http://www.tcnj.edu/~hofmann/kemosabe.htm, retreived July 13, 2013.

Serigraph by Woody Crumbo (1912-1989), a Potawatomi painter in Oklahoma.
Serigraph by Woody Crumbo (1912-1989), a Potawatomi painter in Oklahoma. | Source

Crow Nation

Kirby Sattler," I Am Crow", Art Print
Kirby Sattler," I Am Crow", Art Print

Crow warrior paiting by Kirby Sattler that Johnny Depp used for his Tonto makeup. the poster image has been used illegally in a number of blogs and content sights, inluding Pinterest, but it is copyrighted.

 

Historical Significance of Depp's Portrayal

The portrayal of Tonto seems to combine several North American Nations and draws attention to the Indigenous Peoples of the continent in USA and Canada. This led to greater numbers of people looking for more information on the various nations, tribes, and other groups.

This is all likely positive, given the negative press received by some nations in blocking the advancement of oil pipelines through their lands and in standing up to illegal activities supported by a few local elected officials concering native reserves.

One additional problem is that of a small group of voices broadcasting that Native Americans are in league with the devil to destroy the USA by means of multiculturalism. I hope that more frequently showing the various nations on film and PBS documentaries will dispel that movement.

Below is some information about the various nations that viewers recognize in the portrayal of totno in the 2013 film The Lone Ranger.

Mohawk First Nation

The TV Tonto of the 1950s was Jay Silverheels, a Mohawk from the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, Canada that also gave us actor Graham Green and wrestler War Chief Flying Don Eagle. Silverheels's son is a pastor today.

Film footage from a tongue-in-cheek commerical of Silverheels representing car company is presented below.

Jay Silverheels Commercial

  • Video Credit: VintageTVCommercials - YouTube

    Visit: www.vintagetvcommercials.com VintageTVCommercials is an online resource for PUBLIC DOMAIN TV Commercials of the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's. OUR ...

Six Nations Of the Grand River Reserve, Ohsweken, Ontario

A markerSix Nations Reserve -
Six Nations, Ohsweken, ON N0A, Canada
[get directions]

Three Cherokee Natives

Three Cherokee who visited London, England.
Three Cherokee who visited London, England. | Source

Cherokee Nation

show route and directions
A markerCherokee Nation, Oklahoma -
Cherokee Nation, 100 S Bliss Ave, Tahlequah, OK 74464, USA
[get directions]

B markerCherokee Nation, DC -
Cherokee Nation, 126 C St NW # 1, Washington, DC 20001, USA
[get directions]

Crow members painted by Karl Bodmer around  1840.
Crow members painted by Karl Bodmer around 1840. | Source

Crow vs. Raven.

Crow Nation members are called Children of the Large Beaked Bird. This is the crow.

As a power animal and founder of the nation in its foundation stories, the crow may travel back and forth from the supernatural to the natural worlds and back. In the supernatural world, he may take the form of a man. In the film The Lone Ranger (2013), the crow flies away from places in which Tonto is unable to escape; for example, a crow flies over a cliff and immediately, Tonto climbs back the other way toward the camera. This gives a small idea of the nature of power animals, but in the case of Crow, that bird is said to transport souls to the afterlife.

In the Pacific Northwest, Raven is carved into tall cedar poles of several power aninals in number. Sometimes, you see a man's face carved on his wing. This indicates that the power animal in the native history is a founder of the nation and may travel between supernatual and natural worlds, chaing from man to raven. Raven is credited with stealing the Sun and giving it to the people for light and energy.

In the 2013 film, Tonto refers to John Reid as a spirit walker, one who cannot be killed in battle. This is linked the crow ability to walk between natural and supernatural worlds as bird and man.

Crow Nation, Montana

show route and directions
A markerCrow Nation, Montana -
Apsaalooke Nation Tourism, Crow Agency, MT 59022, USA
[get directions]

B markerLittle Bighorn -
Little Bighorn Battlefield, 756 Battlefield Tour Road, Crow Agency, MT 59022, USA
[get directions]

2013 Movie Choice: Comanche

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Chief Quanah Parker of the Kwahadi ComancheComanche in war regalia.
Chief Quanah Parker of the Kwahadi Comanche
Chief Quanah Parker of the Kwahadi Comanche | Source
Comanche in war regalia.
Comanche in war regalia. | Source

Comanche Actors

Why the Comanche Nation was chosen as Tonto's home people is ot clear, but the writers and director of the film likely wished it.

In the old photo above, you can see the chest covering similar to that adopted by Johnny Depp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger (2013). The feathers in the photo are used for ceremonial smudging. In the second image in the collection above, you can see the Comanche trousers and mocassins very similar to those worn by Depp.

A short film made with Comanche actors was completed in 1920, although it was shown only once. You can watch it at the link below.

Comache Nation

A markerComache Nation, Oklahoma -
Comanche National Museum & Cultural Center, 701 Northwest Ferris Avenue, Lawton, OK 73507, USA
[get directions]

Former lands of the Comanche.
Former lands of the Comanche. | Source

© 2013 Patty Inglish

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Comments 18 comments

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Very interesting.


livewithrichard profile image

livewithrichard 3 years ago from Charleston, SC

I think it is much easier on our numbed down historical brains if we lump the Indigenous Peoples of America into just one category of Native Americans. Fighting over the "historical" representation of a fictional character is beyond ridiculous. Though I have not yest seen the movie, I intend to because as a young boy I was very much a fan of the Lone Ranger.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

If the country's people are that numbed down, the country should dissolve.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

Hi nightbear - Interesting! I feel the same and have been studying the many different groups since high school, although I did not know about my Native American heritage (Mohawk) for some years after that.


nightbear profile image

nightbear 3 years ago from Michiagn, USA

I'm ashamed I never made a study of it. Just listened to the old family stories. But I do love the culture.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

Family stories are good, though! I have enjoyed attending pow wows for more stories and information.


nightbear profile image

nightbear 3 years ago from Michiagn, USA

Wow! Real pow wows among the Indians themselves. That would be fantastic!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

They are! I've always found peace and good humor at every one of them. And good food.


Elias Zanetti profile image

Elias Zanetti 3 years ago from Athens, Greece

Interesting hub, Patty. Haven't seen the film yet. depp is agreat actor so i'm curious to find out how the role worked out.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

Different from Jay Silverheels,certainly, but interesting and I like the backstory for Tonto in this version, because it could have actually happened in America. There is a new related Disney video game to be released shortly - a preview shows an animated Jack Sparrow confronting Depp's Tonto. Very humorous.


drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida

I saw the movie, The Lone Ranger, Patty, and Johnny Depp's portrayal of Tonto is as unlike Jay Silverheels as night is to day. Although laconic he has the best lines in the film. Trust me.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

It certainly is a different portrayal, isn't it? Very entertaining.


ndnfoodie530 profile image

ndnfoodie530 3 years ago from Nothern California

Thanks for helping portray us in a positive light!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

I try to do that and I am happy to do so; there is much to learn and enjoy about Native Americn culture.


wildove5 profile image

wildove5 3 years ago from Cumberland, R.I.

Patty, I am Eastern Elnu Abenaki, my eldest brother is an active member and elder in our tribe. I know it especially angers him to be asked " How much Indian are you?" It's the equivalent to asking an African American the same question. I think it's ignorant to say the least, I am Indian, wether it's a quarter, a half or full, it has no baring, the fact still remains, I am Indian. I have a hub on my page of my brother and a couple of video's as well of our tribe, ( The drum beat carries on )

if you get some time, stop by. Thanks.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

I will certainly stop by and see your videos and your brother. Yes, "How much Indian?" sounds pretty odd. An elder of the tribe should not be asked such a thing. I'm Mohawk and live far away from any member of any of those few bands left.


nicomp profile image

nicomp 3 years ago from Ohio, USA

Disney recently announced a predicted loss of $150M on The Lone Ranger. I think they marketed it incorrectly or they named it incorrectly. Either Depp was the leading man or not.

Anyway, I wouldn't see it because Depp has become so anti-American. Congrats to him on his public success, but I'm not contributing to it.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

Thanks for your views, nicomp!

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