2022 Award Winner
From small-town Oklahoma native to internationally acclaimed actor and musician, Wes Studi credits his passion and multi-faceted background for his powerful character portrayals that forever changed a Hollywood stereotype.
Drawing from his rich life experience, Wes moved audiences with unforgettable performances in “Dances with Wolves,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Geronimo: An American Legend,” and “Heat,” as well as James Cameron’s “Avatar,” Paul Weitz’s “Being Flynn” and Scott Coopers “Hostiles.” Breaking new ground, he brought fully-developed Native American characters to the screen, and then took his craft a step further highlighting the success of Native Americans in non-traditional roles.
In 2019, Wes received the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Governors Award, an honorary Oscar statuette, given to honor extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement.
Acting was never a goal in Wes’ youth. The eldest son of a ranch hand, Wes was born in 1947 in Nofire Hollow, in Northeastern Oklahoma. He spoke only his native Cherokee until he was 5, which he continues to speak today. He joined the U.S. After high school and while stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, he volunteered to serve one tour in Vietnam.
After an honorable military discharge, Wes returned home with a fire in the belly, and became seriously involved with Native American politics. He joined the American Indian Movement (AIM) and participated in the Trail of Broken Treaties protest march in 1972, where hundreds of Native American activists marched on Washington. He was also one of the protesters who briefly occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs Building there.
Not long after, Wes channeled his feelings toward positive change. Shortly after Wounded Knee, Wes moved to Tahlequah, Oklahoma, where he worked for the Cherokee Nation and later attended Northeastern University.
After college, Wes shifted his attention to running his own horse ranch and became a professional horse trainer. It was during this era that he began acting at The American Indian Theatre Company in Tulsa in 1983 as an outlet for pent up feelings. Wes first took the professional stage in 1984 with “Black Elk Speaks” and was hooked.