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Bad Eagle Journal

Johnny Depp and the Yamparika Comanche Crow Dancers

by David Yeagley · June 10, 2013 · Post Comments ·

Johnny Depp chose to imitate the fantasy image of an imaginary Indian painted by Kirby Sattler, a white man. Sattler said the image was wholly imaginary, not depicting any specific tribe or or person or clan.

Kerby Sattler’s fantasy, copied by Johhny Depp.

Now Bill Voelker, enrolled Comanche consultant for Depp’s new movie The Lone Ranger, says that Depp asked him whether the costume was too “far-fetched.” Voelker said no, it wasn’t. Why? Because, Bill “Two Ravens” Voelker believes that Comanche culture was a bird culture, and that ravens were part of Comanche focus. This is the newly published abstract generalization used to somehow justify Johnny Depp’s fantasy costume for a fantasy Comanche.

The reason for this newly revealed information is obviously due to the intense and growing protest to the unrealistic, inauthentic Indian image of Johnny Depp in the movie. The character is supposed to depict a Comanche, but the costume is wildly irrelevant, as is the character in the movie. So, new justification–from Comanches, is apparently much needed (with a price?).

Current Chairman Wallace Coffee has contributed new information as well, in order to justify the otherwise bizarre and irrelevant costume of Johnny Depp.

Coffey cites a historical raven dance from a not-so-well-known warrior society called tuhu wii (too wee), or “black knife,” or “black raven.” Actually, no such term appeared in the earliest Comanche lexicons. There is only the word for night, “toh-kahn,” but no word for black. The only record known of this Tuhu Wii warrior society is from anthropological references which came to light in 1933. A “Tuhwi-Crow-Raven” dance is mentioned–as belonging exclusively to the Yamparkia Comanche. There is no known description of the dance or of any special attire associated with it. There are no visuals. And there is no word as to date of origins of the dance, either. Comanche society is highly individualistic, full of clans, clubs, groups, societies, as typifies any people of profound autonomy. That Yamparika had at some late point (probably post-reservation), a Crow Dance for veterans, is not indicative of a universal Comanche tradition at all.

What little there is about this matter is contained in William C. Meadows’ Kiowa, Apache, and Comanche Military Societies (University of Texas, 1999), pp.274-294, esp. p.284. There is a bit more detail given also on the matter of Comanche attitude about the crow. However, again, there is no visual description of any special costume worn by the Crow dancers.

The Yamparika Comanche (originally named for the yap root, a potato-like root) were the northern-most group of Comanche, living nearest the old Shoshone borders, and it is said that they maintained the closest ties to the Shoshone. Comanche people were (and still are) quite faddish in various aspects of our culture, trending with the wind, more or less. The crow bit simply had no significance among the rest of the Comanche, however important it may have been, temporarily, among the Yamparkika. It is impossible to know much more at this point in history. Sometimes, history is simply lost, forever.

But why bring all this matter up, to justify Johhny Depp’s costume, when he states explicitly that he got his costume–not from the Comanche, but from a fantasy painting by white man artist, Kirby Sattler? His costume has only the most coincidental, and remote relation to anything Comanche. The Raven has all sorts of cultural significance for all kinds of people, all over the world, in all periods of history. Trying to make it Comanche, for the sake of a movie costume chosen to imitate a white man’s fantasy painting seems “far-fetched,” indeed.

Why do Comanche leaders (in this case, Comanche Chairman Wallace Coffey, and non-Comanche funded bird man Bill Voelker) feel they have to make Johhny Depp’s costume a Comanche costume? The Lone Ranger is a fantasy film, and Johnny Depp’s “Comanche” character is a fantasy character, with a fantasy costume. Why is there a need to try an add authenticity to it?

In my opinion, this is not only unnecessary, but possibly denigrating. I can easily see a new trend starting in Comanche land: dancers are going to show up at pow-wows with raven head pieces on top of their heads. Johnny Depp will have started a new trend, all because some Comanches tried to justify his fantasy costume. They tried to say it was authentic, or Comanche-related. Thus, Hollywood will have affected Comanche tradition. The white man will have made a new mark, a new scar, on Indian country–on the most powerful tribe of the southern plains, the Comanche.

I’d call that a coup. And it’s all based luck–another fine Comanche tradition. Johnny Depp maybe just got lucky.

Here’s a photo of LaDonna Harris and Bill Voelker, for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services southwest regional meeting, May, 2006.

Voelker has “Comanche” written all over his work, but his bird preservation program is not funded by the Comanche Nation. It is part of a national program of the United States.

Posted by David Yeagley · June 10, 2013 · 9:45 am CT · ·

Tags: American Indians · Arts · Bad Eagle Journal · Mascots · Media · Politics · Race · Warriors

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