The term "sugarcoat" is one sparingly utilized in the thought process of Wes Studi, Indian country's renowned actor. This 68-year-old Cherokee man tells it like it is. He's a guy who has genuine concerns not only for the well-being of Native Americans, but the state of the world.
Just a couple years back, during an interview in Santa Clara, California, I asked Studi if he had any fears. He told me he was worried about what's going on in the cradle of civilization between Israel and Palestine.
The item he's lending his thoughts—and, now, time—to today is the Standing Rock Sioux tribe's peaceful protest of the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline. Thousands have come from across the world to stand in solidarity over the protection of clean water at the Cannon Ball, North Dakota encampment, which sits on the confluence of the Missouri and Cannon Ball rivers.
Studi spent five days at the protest site to demonstrate his agreement. He was active on social media. Every update to Facebook received thousands of combined likes, shares and comments on his posts, raising the profile for the cause—a historic one which has united the seven Sioux nations for the first time since the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 and attracted solidarity from more than 300 tribes.
"It was a matter of being a part of something I've always been a part of," Studi said. "It's a reiteration of my commitment to being part of the American Indian community. I do my part as much as I possibly can."
Studi, who was not long from wrapping up the upcoming 19th-century drama "Hostiles," set aside a few minutes of his time to phone the Traveling NDN last week for an exclusive interview on his participation:
Does being a veteran impact your stance on the protest?
Studi: I think being a former veteran, yeah; it does play into the whole thing. I think that a veteran can be very disappointed by the way their brethren, in terms of people like National Guard, are used against civilians. I think it's a damn shame that they're used against people who are simply promoting an agenda that is, in my mind, very helpful toward the environment and cultural values that American Indians have.
Do you believe coverage in the media has twisted the perception of what's going on out there?
Studi: I think what happens is they get most of their information from local law enforcement and really don't bother to get the other side. That's what I think is happening.
You went to the Wounded Knee protest in 1973. Did you ever think you'd end up at another event like that in your lifetime?
Studi: Actually, I had thought that when time went on, these young people who are actively taking part in this demonstration are just about the seventh generation that's spoken of. I think they're stepping up to fill their role in that manner. They're stepping up to protect things that are not only valuable to themselves, but actually to the entire world.
Your son, Kholan, accompanied you on your journey. Was it the passing of the torch, so to speak?
Studi: I think he was more excited about it than I was. It was his first time in that kind of a situation. He'd never been in a kind of a demonstration mode, so it was a very exciting thing for him. And it was good for a father watch a son become involved in that way.
How was this protest different, in your opinion, from others?
Studi: The Standing Rock tribal government is solidly behind and totally involved in this entire thing. Up to now, every tribal experience I've had has always pitted the people against the tribe. This time, it's a matter of the tribal administration and the people are moving in the same direction. So that's a big first in terms of what I saw out there.
Many celebrities have supported American Indian causes throughout time. Marlon Brando. Leonardo DiCaprio. Susan Sarandon and Shailene Woodley were holding a #NoDAPL sign in Washington, D.C. not long ago. Do you gain respect for your fellow actors who align themselves with Native American causes?
Studi: Well certainly. Anyone who's willing should be able to support as much as possible. It's not just a matter of indigenous people losing anything here in terms of fresh water; to be able to trust the water not being contaminated by oil leaks and such. What's at stake here is actually the contamination of worldwide water. Indigenous people from the Amazon who are having huge problems with companies down there with the same thing have joined the movement. They seem to realize that, yes, it's not just indigenous peoples that are against the energy transfer, pipeline, it's a worldwide concern. Anybody who's actually breathing air and drinking water has something at stake here. That's all there is to it.
There it is, folks, in Wes Studi fashion.