A moment at the Oscars that went largely missed by most Americans has ignited a wave of pride among Native Americans, including North Carolina’s Eastern Band of Cherokee.
“Hostiles” film star Wes Studi paused during his time at the podium to speak the Cherokee language Tsalagi, acknowledging both his Cherokee heritage and his time serving in the U.S. military.
His message, according to those who speak the language: “Hello. Appreciation to all veterans and Cherokees who’ve served. Thank you! Learn more Cherokee here! Wado!”
It was a brief but important moment for Native Americans, including the 14,000 members of North Carolina-based Eastern Band of Cherokee. It was for some the first time they’d ever heard their native language spoken live on television. For others, it represented a rare affirmation of the Cherokee people’s contributions to the national arts.
Native Americans have been rare visitors to the Oscars, with only three nominated in 90 years, all of them Canadians, according to ABC News.
Social media response to Studi’s speech was immediate and widespread, including a rush to translate the words.
“That made me jump out of my seat! Clapping and yellin’,” tweeted actor Michael Greyeyes, a member of the First Nations.
“My husband and I turned to each other with the same question: Did we really just hear that?” tweeted Charlotte Issyvoo.
“Just watched history made as Wesley Studi took the Oscars stage. Burst into tears as he began speaking Cherokee. So sweet and powerful. Wish my grandparents were alive to see it,” tweeted Jensie Culton.
“Just replayed Wes Studi’s Oscar presentation so my daughter can hear another Native speak their language on TV,” tweeted someone named Nin.
Studi is affiliated with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, based in Tahlequah, the largest of three federally-recognized Cherokee tribes, according to Voice of America. The other two are the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, also headquartered in Tahlequah, and the Eastern Band in Cherokee who are based near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, media outlets report.
Studi is a veteran who joined the National Guard during his senior year at the now-defunct Chilocco Indian School, a boarding school in north-central Oklahoma. He later volunteered for the U.S. Army and served 18 months in Vietnam, reported Voice of America.