Canku Ota Logo

Canku Ota

Canku Ota Logo

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


November 16, 2002 - Issue 74


pictograph divider


My Small Role as A Nez Perce Indian

by Roscoe Pond

Chief JosephIt has been one hundred and twenty five years since the Nez Perce War of 1877. Since then, the Plight of the Nez Perce and Young Chief Joseph has been written about in countless books, novels and news articles.

Documentaries have been made and a popular 1970's ABC movie was produced called, "I will fight no more forever". Chief Joseph has been revered by historians and overly idolized by non-Indians alike with their Internet websites. Like Sitting Bull, Geronimo and Crazy Horse, Young Chief Joseph has become imbedded into the conscious of all those who have followed him or didn't. But, to his own descendents he was an ordinary man who only wanted the survival of his people.

I was born on The Umatilla(yuma-tilla) Indian Reservation in eastern Oregon not far from the Wallowa Valley and Nez Perce country. I was given the Indian name of "Three Feathers" (Mi-tat-wap-tes). I recieved that name because my mother Anna Jane Wilkinson is Nez Perce and that no one had claimed it before me. "Three Feathers" was reborn in me when I was just fifeteen years old and I am now realizing the magnitude of who he really was.

"Three Feathers" had his own band of Nez Perce and he signed the treaty of 1855. They called him a "healer" of the people and there is this Indian song that has been handed down to me that was his. It has become softer over the years but it is still very strong and is over one hundred years old. At the age of eighteen I was given three eagle feathers by my father and it is who I am and who I will always be. He is a man of whom I have tried to live up to in this modern culture and believe me I'm not even half way there in my odd thirty years of living.

I never in my wildest dreams thought that as an actor I would take on the role of Young Chief Joseph. On the theatre stage I have portrayed him three times. The first was in a play called, "Echo's of the past" (1996). The second in a One Man show called, "I will fight no more forever" (1998). The third and final time was in another One Man show called, "Chief Joseph's Story" (2001) which was a recreation of his famous 1879 speech to Congress.

Over the last century the romanticism of Young Chief Joseph has been greatly exaggerated. How do you capture his true essence without putting him on a pedestal like so many have? In my research I found a 1996 PBS documentay called, "The West" which was directed by Ken Burns and beautifully narrated by Actor Peter Coyote. It chronicled the beginning of the west and it's expansion to the Nez Perce and their struggle for freedom in 1877. Mr. Burns brought me new insights of never before seen photos and an important audio tape (cylinders back then) of Chief Joseph singing this Indian song.

That to me is the center of this man. He was a true believer in the Creator and to reach upon high he always carried an Indian song in his heart. It was widely printed back then when he sang a song on the steps of the Capitol in Washington D.C. That song has been passed down through the years and my father sings it as a reminder of who Chief Joseph was.

It's truly one of the most challenging parts I have ever took on as an actor. I've watched other actor's try to use His famous words in their approach with disasterous results. I've also watched Ned Romero's wonderful performance in "I will fight no more forever"(ABC-TV) many times over. But, for me it is Joseph's belief in the Creator that has brought his words absolute truth. That's why his speeches are so powerful.

The last performances I gave were just too overwhelming. I got lost in the character at times and I found myself weeping backstage after. I had experienced through his words a true Indian Holocaust filled with slaughter and despair. I literally took a huge first step in my acting career and those moments on stage I will never forget. I found that a dedicated actor has to be able to feel and it's astounding for that actor when he reaches a moment that cannot be created. It just is. Young Chief Joseph is a role I am proud to say I tried to reach and sadly I couldn't but for only a few brief moments on the stage.

The Nez Perce War of 1877 is a part of history my ancestor' s did not choose. It was a time to show the nation the strength of a truly great Indian people. One hundred and twenty five years later a lot has changed but the Legacy continues. Even though I am not an enrolled member of the Nez Perce Tribe I am proud to carry the blood and my Indian name that connects me to such a strong Indian heritage. It is my small role as a Nez Perce Indian.

Roscoe Pond....

pictograph divider


Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us

Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us


pictograph divider

  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo

The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 of Paul C. Barry.

All Rights Reserved.

Thank You

Valid HTML 4.01!