Native Americans In Film - Johnny Depp's Tonto
Potowatomi Nation: Northeastern United States
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 PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
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.
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
Mohawk Nation Information
- Traditional Mohawk Nation Daily and Ceremonial Cloth...
What did Mohawk families wear from 1800 - 1900?
- The Kahniakenhaka Mohawk Nation Council vs. the St. Regis Group
The official, long-standing indigenous Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs (MNCC) represents the Sovereign Nation of the Mohawk (separate from the US Government) that still exists in America. The nation is called Kahniakenhaka.
Three Cherokee Natives
- Cherokee Nation Downsizes - 500 Years of Racism and Politics
Claims of racism have been lodged, even against some of our Naive American Nations.
- Famous and Inspiring Cherokee People
Growing interest in researching family genealogies and in related television shows such as Who Do You Think You Are?
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 Links
- Crow Nation: US President Barack Obama's Adopted Nation
Adoption into a Native American Nation is a high honor and an act of generosity and respect from American's Indigenous Peoples. Crow Nation adopted President Barack Obama.
- Native American Nations in The Canadian Territories
The northern provinces of Canada are the coldest in the country. Yet, many Native Americans or First Nations peoples live in these very provinces. Their way of life is fascinating...
- Native American Nations of the Far Western USA
Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples developed different cultures from Alaska and Hawaii inward through the western United States...
Crow Nation, Montana
2013 Movie Choice: ComancheClick thumbnail to view full-size
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.
- Oklahoma Native American Silent Film From 1920 Is Restored
In 1920, a silent film was made by Kiowa and Comanche People, screened in Los Angeles, and placed into storage for 90 years. Discovered by a private eye, the movie has been digitally restored to travel the nation for screening at film festivals and m
© 2013 Patty Inglish MS