Wes Studi

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Wes Studi
Studi in 2008
Wesley Studi

(1947-12-17) December 17, 1947 (age 72)
EducationTulsa Community College
OccupationActor, producer
Years active1988–present
Spouse(s)Rebecca Graves
(m. 1974; div. 1982)
Maura Dhu
(m. 1986)

Wesley Studi (Cherokee: ᏪᏌ ᏍᏚᏗ; born December 17, 1947) is a Cherokee American actor and film producer who has won critical acclaim and awards, particularly for his portrayal of Native Americans in film.[1][2] He has appeared in Academy Award-winning films, such as Dances with Wolves (1990) and The Last of the Mohicans (1992), and in the Academy Award-nominated films Geronimo: An American Legend (1993) and The New World (2005). He is also known for portraying Sagat in Street Fighter (1994). Other films he has appeared in are Hostiles, Heat, Mystery Men, Avatar, A Million Ways to Die in the West, and the television series Penny Dreadful. In 2020, he received an Academy Honorary Award,[3] becoming the first Native American and the second North American Indigenous person to be honored by the Academy (the first was Buffy Sainte-Marie).[a]

Early life and education[edit]

Studi was born in a Cherokee family in Nofire Hollow, Oklahoma, a rural area in Cherokee County named after his mother's family.[5] He is the son of Maggie Studie, a housekeeper, and Andy Studie, a ranch hand. Until he attended elementary school, he spoke only Cherokee at home.[6] He attended Chilocco Indian Agricultural School for high school and graduated in 1964; his vocational major was in dry cleaning.[7]

At the age of 17, Studi enlisted in the Oklahoma National Guard and had his basic combat training and advanced individual training at Fort Polk, Louisiana.[8] Studi volunteered for active service and went to Vietnam with A Company of the 3rd Battalion 39th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division,[9] where he served for 12 months.[8]

After his discharge, Studi became politically active in American Indian activism. He participated in the Wounded Knee Incident at Pine Ridge Reservation in 1973.[6] Studi stated in an interview that he first began acting while attending Tulsa Community College, after returning from his service in Vietnam. He had a role in the play The Royal Hunt of the Sun for the American Indian Theater Company.[10]


Studi promotes healthy living among Native Americans

Studi appeared in his first film, The Trial of Standing Bear, in 1988.[5] He is known for his roles as ruthless Native American warriors, such as a Pawnee in Dances with Wolves (1990), and the Huron Magua in The Last of the Mohicans (1992).[6][11]

A year later, he was cast with Eric Schweig for TNT's film The Broken Chain, about the historic Iroquois League that was based in the area of central and western present-day New York state. It was shot in Virginia. This was part of a group of productions shown over 14 months on TNT as its "Native American initiative", including three television movies and several documentaries. A six-hour history series was told from a Native American perspective.[2] In 1993 Studi had the lead in Geronimo: An American Legend.[12] He played the superhero Sphinx in the 1999 comedy film Mystery Men.

In 2002, Studi brought to life the character of Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, for a series of PBS movies based on Tony Hillerman's novels set in the Southwest among the Navajo and Hopi. It was produced by Robert Redford.

In 2005, Studi portrayed a character based on chief Opechancanough, leader of the Powhatan Confederacy in Virginia, in the film The New World directed by Terrence Malick.

In 2009, Studi appeared as Major Ridge, a leader of the Cherokee before the Native American removal to Indian Territory, in Trail of Tears. This was the third of five episodes in the PBS series We Shall Remain, portraying critical episodes in Native American history after European encounter,[13] part of the public television's acclaimed series American Experience, where Studi spoke only in native Cherokee.

Also in 2009, Studi appeared in James Cameron's Avatar. He played Eytukan, the chieftain of a Na'vi tribe, but did not have any dialogue in English. Studi played Cheyenne chief Yellow Hawk in a starring role in the 2017 film Hostiles.[14]

At the 90th Academy Awards, Studi introduced a tribute to military movies,[15] and gave part of his speech in the Cherokee language, of which he is a fluent speaker.[16] Studi is the second Native American actor to present at the Academy Awards. Will Rogers hosted in 1934.[17]

In 2019, he received an Academy Honorary Award, becoming the second Indigenous person to be honored, and the first Native American actor to receive an Oscar specifically for acting.[3][18] The first Indigenous person from North America to win an Oscar, was Buffy Sainte-Marie, a First Nations/Native American living in Canada, in 1983, for Best Original Song at the 55th Academy Awards.[4]

Personal life[edit]

After his studies, Studi taught the Cherokee language and syllabary and helped establish a Cherokee-language newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, which is still currently published. He went into ranching. After his first marriage ended in divorce, Studi left ranching and started to study acting; a friend had recommended it as a place to meet women.[2] Studi married Maura Dhu, and they moved their family to a farm near Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the early 1990s.[2] Maura is the only child of Emmy- and Oscar-winning actor Jack Albertson. Wes and Maura Dhu Studi have a son, Kholan. Studi has a daughter, Leah, and a son, Daniel, from his previous marriage.[19] Studi and his wife perform in the band, Firecat of Discord. Studi serves as honorary chair of the national endowment campaign of the Indigenous Language Institute in Santa Fe.[5]

Studi endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders for President in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.[20]


  • 1994: Won a Western Heritage Award (shared with cast and crew) for Geronimo: An American Legend (1993).[12]
  • 1998: The Dreamspeakers Film and Festival honored Studi with its Career Achievement Award.[5]
  • 2000: Motion Picture and Television Fund's Golden Boot Award.[5]
  • 2000: Artist of the Decade at the First Americans in the Arts Awards.[5]
  • 2013: Inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers - Western Heritage Award, Oklahoma City, OK
  • 2019: Academy Honorary Award.[3]


Year Title Role Notes
1988 The Trial of Standing Bear Long Runner Nebraska ETV
1989 Powwow Highway Buff
1990 Dances with Wolves Toughest Pawnee
The Flash Roller Episode: "Sins of the Father"
1991 The Doors Indian in Desert
1992 The Last of the Mohicans Magua
1993 Geronimo: An American Legend Geronimo
The Broken Chain Seth TV movie
1994 Street Fighter Sagat
The 51st Annual Golden Globe Awards Himself/Presenter
1995 Lone Justice 2 One Horse
Heat Detective Sammy Casals
Streets of Laredo (Famous Shoes) Indian friend of Pea Eye TV
500 Nations Voice TV miniseries
The Way West Voice TV movie documentary
1996 The Killing Jar Cameron
1997 Crazy Horse Red Cloud TV
Adventures from the Book of Virtues Scarface Episode: "Perseverance"
Promised Land Jesse Rainbird Episode: "Outrage"
Big Guns Talk: The Story of the Western Himself TV movie documentary
1998 Deep Rising Hanover
The Horse Whisperer Parks guard
Soundman Terry Leonard
1999 Mystery Men The Sphinx
2001 Ice Planet Commander Trager
Christmas in the Clouds Bingo Caller
Road to Redemption Frank Lightfoot
The Directors Himself Episode: "The Films of Michael Mann"
2002 Undisputed Mingo Pace
Skinwalkers Lt. Joe Leaphorn
2003 Edge of America Cuch
The Ugly One Father Mike
Coyote Waits Lt. Joe Leaphorn
The Lone Ranger Kulakinah TV movie
2004 Echoes from Juniper Canyon Grandpa Voice
A Thief of Time Lt. Joe Leaphorn
2005 Into the West Black Kettle
Animal Creeper Voice
Miracle at Sage Creek Chief Thomas
The Making of 'Miracle at Sage Creek' Himself/Chief Thomas
The New World Opechancanough
2006 Three Priests Ben
The Making of the New World Himself/Opechancanough Video documentary
The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy Himself/Presenter
2007 Seraphim Falls Charon
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee Wovoka
2008 Comanche Moon Buffalo Hump TV
Older Than America Richard Two Rivers
2009 Avatar Eytukan
Trail of Tears Major Ridge
Kings General Linus Abner
The Only Good Indian Sam Franklin (main character) Executive producer
2010 The Mentalist Joseph Silverwing Episode: "Aingavite Baa"
The Making of 'Last of the Mohicans' Himself Video documentary
2011 Hell on Wheels Chief Many Horses TV
Images of Indians: How Hollywood Stereotyped the Native American Himself/Toughest Pawnee TV movie documentary
2012 Being Flynn Captain
Call of the Wild Hatcher
2013 Sugar Bishop
Road to Paloma Numay
Battledogs Captain Falcons
2014 A Million Ways to Die in the West Cochise
Planes: Fire & Rescue Windlifter Voice
2015 The Red Road Chief Levi Gall
The Condemned 2 Cyrus Merrick
2016 Penny Dreadful Kaetenay TV
2017 Hostiles Chief Yellow Hawk
2019 A Dog's Way Home Captain Mica
2020 Nothing, Arizona


  1. ^ With this honorary Oscar, Wes Studi became the second Indigenous person from North America to receive an award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Buffy Sainte-Marie, a First Nations/Native American living in Canada was the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar, in 1983, when she won the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 55th Academy Awards.[4]


  1. ^ Galbraith, Jane (1993-12-14). "Q&a with Wes Studi: 'I Came Into the Business at the Right Time'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-30.
  2. ^ a b c d Kevin Carter (22 December 1993). "Actor Champions Indian Heritage". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2010-12-12.
  3. ^ a b c Hammond, Pete (3 June 2019). "Oscars: Governors Awards To Geena Davis, David Lynch, Wes Studi, Lina Wertmuller".
  4. ^ a b ""An Officer and a Gentleman" (NY)". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 4 Nov 2019. Academy Award winner: Music – Original Song (“Up Where We Belong,” Music by Jack Nitzsche, Buffy Sainte-Marie; Lyric by Will Jennings)
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Wes Studi", Native Networks, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
  6. ^ a b c Lewis Beale (1993-12-16). "Wes (`Geronimo') Studi Wary Of Political Correctness". New York Daily News. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2010-12-12.
  7. ^ The Chilocco Annual, 1964, National Archives and Records Administration
  8. ^ a b "Wes Studi: 'A True Warrior' │ U.S.Veterans Magazine". US Veterans and Military Magazine | A US Veterans News Resource. 2018-08-16. Retrieved 2019-08-06.
  9. ^ Currey, R. (March 14, 2015). "Wes Studi: at the edge of courage". VVA Veteran. Vietnam Veterans of America. Retrieved May 13, 2019.
  10. ^ Eaton, Kristin and Anna Holton Dean. "The Road to Fame: Wes Studi." Tulsa People. Accessed March 22, 2019.
  11. ^ Kevin L. Carter (1993-12-19). "Yelling Geronimo! Wes Studi's film and TV roles allow him to ealk in his ancestors' shoes". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2010-12-12.
  12. ^ a b National Cowboy Museum official site, retrieved February 7, 2008.
  13. ^ We Shall Remain, 5-part series, American Experience, PBS.
  14. ^ Schilling, Vincent (January 18, 2018). "Native Actor Wes Studi Talks About His Role as Chief Yellowhawk in 'Hostiles': Wes Studi stars along with such actors as Christian Bale and Adam Beach in 'Hostiles' directed by Scott Cooper. The film premieres in select theaters Jan 19 and nationwide Jan 26". Retrieved February 3, 2018.
  15. ^ "Oscars recognize military movies in Wes Studi-led tribute". EW.com. Retrieved 2018-03-05.
  16. ^ Hilleary, Cecily. "Native Americans Delight as Veteran Actor Speaks Cherokee at Oscars". VOA. Retrieved 2018-03-05.
  17. ^ Associated Press (28 Feb 2017). "Native American actor Wes Studi relishes rare Oscar invite". Page Six. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  18. ^ Saunders, Emma (4 June 2019). "Oscar first for Native American actor" – via www.bbc.co.uk.
  19. ^ "Wes Studi". IMDb.
  20. ^ NY Labor 4 Bernie [@NYLabor4Bernie] (5 November 2016). "Yuge crowd of NYers ready to march for #NoDAPL" (Tweet). Retweeted by Wes Studi [WesleyStudi] – via Twitter.

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