A powwow held Thursday evening at Tongue River High School in Dayton drew big crowds – not only in support of efforts to address the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous persons on Native American reservations, but to get a chance to meet some of the actors from the popular “Yellowstone” television franchise.
By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Fans of the “Yellowstone” television series and its spinoffs were treated to live appearances by three of the franchise’s stars at Tongue River High School in Dayton.
Actors Christian Wassana (Martin Kills Many in “Yellowstone”), Cole Brings Plenty (Pete Plenty Clouds in “1923”) and Stephen Yellowtail (“1883” actor and star of the reality show “The Ultimate Cowboy”) were among the special guests at a Powwow held at Tongue River High School on Thursday.
The powwow aimed to raise awareness about an epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous people on Native American reservations. Dr. David Bearshield, an activist and the night’s keynote speaker, said this was the largest event so far.
“It started about three years ago, and it was to bring light on the missing and murdered indigenous persons (also known as MMIP) epidemic that's going on within the reservation boundaries of the Crow tribe,” Bearshield told Cowboy State Daily. “There was not an empty seat in the house.”
The star-studded powwow featured Crow tribal dancers as well as musician and Native rapper Supaman (Christian Parrish), along with the three “Yellowstone” actors.
“We put together a lineup of individuals, of Native American young people that have a background of accomplishments, to encourage not only just the finding of individuals, but also make sure that they would bring light to that,” said Bearshield.
Christian Wassana, an actor and production assistant on “Yellowstone,” told Cowboy State Daily he is happy to take any opportunity to shed light on the cause.
“I always believe that supporting organizations or anyone who's trying to put on and bring awareness to this issue that we face in Native country is huge,” he said.
Wassana also is the founder of “I Am, I Can, I Will,” a movement that encourages young people to turn away from thoughts of suicide, drugs and alcohol abuse, as well as shining a light on the missing, murdered indigenous persons epidemic in the tribes of his native Oklahoma.
Wassana said his success in the industry has brought opportunities that he never thought possible, and by speaking at events like the MMIP Powwow, he’s able to show there is a bright future for young Natives like himself.
“The big important issue is … having native representation not only in front of the camera, but behind as well,” he said. “There's a lot of positions and employment opportunities that our communities don't really know about, so one of my main goals is to bring that light and that awareness to not only the stories that need to be told, but to the whole film industry as a whole.”
Cole Brings Plenty plays the role of Pete Plenty Clouds in the show “1923,” but also is the real-life nephew of “Yellowstone” star Mo Brings Plenty.
A college athlete, fashion model and expert horseman, Brings Plenty told Cowboy State Daily that when he was growing up on the Cheyenne River Reservation in northern South Dakota, he never imagined a future like the one he’s living.
“If you look at life expectancy on the reservation, people think that there won't ever be a possibility of becoming an actor or becoming an artist, musician, anything like that,” he said. “We always thought that we would become a police officer or something, get an adult job, whatever opportunities certain reservations have.”
Brings Plenty said he would like to use his success in the television industry as a beacon of hope for other young people like him, which is one of the reasons he agreed to his uncle Mo’s request to appear at the MMIP Powwow in Dayton.
“Being a part of the show, you know, Natives penetrating the mainstream, it shows that there's more opportunities out there as a tribal member, rather than the lack of opportunities that are present on the reservation,” he said.
Close To Home
For “1883” actor Stephen Yellowtail (who was also runner up on the reality television show “Ultimate Cowboy Showdown”), the powwow was very personal.
A native of Wyola just across the Montana border, Yellowtail is a graduate of Tongue River High School.
He told Cowboy State Daily that a family friend in the television industry offered him the opportunity to be a stunt double on “1883,” which is when his life took a major turn.
“I was able to make connections, just kind of network and grow from there,” said Yellowtail, who still lives in Ranchester and is a fourth-generation rancher on the Crow reservation.
He said he saw Thursday’s event as an opportunity to provide a bridge between the native and non-native communities, educating all about the people who have gone missing and what he sees as a lack of resources on both sides.
“I have had several relatives that have gone missing,” he said. “And so this event really hits home.”
Shedding Light On A Dark Subject
Bearshield pointed out that just in the tribes here in the Rocky Mountain West region, there are more than 5,000 missing Native Americans. But according to the Department of Interior, only around 100 have actually been reported.
Bearshield said the young actors showcased accomplishments of Native American young men, inspiring others like them to see a brighter future.
“This type of event brings the community together, and they can see these amazing stars and these amazing Native American actors that have accomplished so much,” he said.
Wassana said that he is glad for any opportunity to raise the profile of Native American people.
“That's just how it's always been for Native American people, we're thought of as less, we don't get treated the same,” he said. “So any way that we can fight and that we can push to raise awareness, to bring our voices to where they should and where they need to be, especially with this specific issue, is always important.”
Brings Plenty agreed.
“With Natives like us penetrating the mainstream, we are finally able to shed light on the issues on reservations as well,” he said, “because there's not a lot of coverage of missing and murdered indigenous people.”