Born on the Pine Ridge Reservation, actor Moses Brings Plenty plays Charlie Soap in The Cherokee Word for Water, the acclaimed film about the life of Cherokee Nation Chief Wilma Mankiller that shows tonight to conclude the Red Nation Film Festival in Los Angeles. Last Saturday, the film played at the American Indian Film Festival (as did another of Brings Plenty's projects, Urban Rez). Brings Plenty took a few moments to discuss his role in the film.
We know The Cherokee Word for Water tells Wilma Mankiller's story — but what else would you say this film is really about?
This film was not just a story of a very gifted individual who was an amazing leader, nor just the man who was her counterpart that helped her in her quest — it is also about an entire community. What attracted me to the film, and was so amazing, is this: If indigenous people stop looking at all of our differences and start looking at our commonalities, we can accomplish a lot as indigenous people. All people around the world are tribal; we are now, my brother, speaking this English language that is foreign to every single human being in this entire world. Today it is even foreign to the English. There are only two things that separate us as human beings, language and spiritual beliefs or religion. Other than that, we have everything else in common.
What was it like playing Mankiller's partner Charlie Soap, who is alive and is actually credited as a co-director of the film?
I remember the first time Charlie and I met. When I walked into the room, and there were 15 other people there, when he and I looked at each other — it was like I was seeing a relative. I felt like I was no longer actually in Oklahoma, I felt like I was right back in South Dakota. It was a very powerful moment. In that moment it took me back to how our people used to be. Yes our dialect might have been different, how we prayed might have been different, but we had such a connection to the original creation, we didn't need language to communicate. I told him, "you guys have a beautiful country here in the beautiful nation." He said, "Yeah," and then we went right into talking about the things that affect our people. It was an incredible opportunity to portray him in the film. I also got to pray with him, laugh with him and cry with them. The experience was something I will never forget for my entire life.
How has the public received the film since it has come out?
A lot of people have really appreciated how well and how amazing Kimberly Guerrero portrayed Wilma Mankiller. This film has brought a lot of awareness to water and about the importance of water. When you think about it, the water that we are drinking today is what our ancestors and many generations before them had consumed. It was the very same water. Is not like some amazing spaceship comes and delivers fresh water every 5000 years — for some pathetic reason we seem to take this water for granted. There is only one creation that can live without water and that is the rock. The stone is the only creation on this entire planet that can live without water. We have a very important understanding of water that we need to get back to. With this film, we have brought forward to the public an understanding of what could be done for indigenous people. We also talked about how tribal councils are today and how are they effective for the people.
Is there any message you'd like to get across to those who watch The Cherokee Word for Water?
Togetherness. Gadugi – This means working together. We have a chance and an opportunity to be responsible for tomorrow, no one is responsible for the past. We need to stop focusing on these two little things on how we are different – we need to focus on what we have in common. We need to make things healthy and preserved for generations to come.