Actor Wes Studi receives first Chief Standing Bear award for courage

By: - October 10, 2022 11:16 am
Wes Studi

Actor Wes Studi is inaugural recipient of the Chief Standing Bear Prize for Courage. (Courtesy of the Chief Standing Bear Project)

LINCOLN — An actor known for bringing “fully developed” Native American characters to the big screen, in movies ranging from “Dances with Wolves” to “Avatar,” is the inaugural recipient of the Chief Standing Bear Prize for Courage.

Wes Studi received the award Monday night at a sold-out banquet at Lincoln’s Lied Center to celebrate the award and Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The Standing Bear Prize for Courage was created to honor those Native Americans who exemplify courage in the spirit of Standing Bear, according to Katie Brossy, board president of the Chief Standing Bear Project.

Standing Bear
A bust of Chief Standing Bear was unveiled earlier this year in front of a state office building, across the street from the State Capitol, that was renamed for the famed Ponca chief. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

That, Brossy said, means doing what is right, rather than what is expedient.

“During his lifetime, not only through his acting roles, but in his dedication and passionate activism in the promotion and preservation of indigenous languages, Mr. Studi has shown great courage in the spirit of Chief Standing Bear,” Brossy said in a press release.

One of Studi’s first role, she noted, was in the 1988 PBS production of “The Trial of Standing Bear.”

Early in his life, Studi was an activist, joining in protests organized by the American Indian Movement.

Speaks Cherokee

An Oklahoma native who still speaks his native Cherokee language, Studi began his acting career in 1984 with a role in “Black Elk Speaks,” which is based on interviews the Lakota medicine man gave to author/poet John Neihardt.

He has appeared in several movies since, including “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Geronimo: An American Legend,” “Being Flynn” and Scott Cooper’s “Hostiles.”

In 2020, the Nebraska Legislature voted to designate the second Monday in October as both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The bill was introduced by State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln.

The Chief Standing Bear Project Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, was founded in 2022 to promote the life and civil rights legacy of Ponca Chief Standing Bear.

‘I am a Man’

Standing Bear won the landmark federal court decision in 1879 that recognized Native Americans as “persons” within the meaning of the law.

He famously told the judge that if he cut his hand, he would feel pain and his blood would be the same color as the judge’s. “I am a man,” Standing Bear told him.


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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.