Since portraying Mary Crow Dog in the Television production of Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee, depicting the Wounded Knee Standoff, Irene Bedard, a Golden Globe-nominated Alaska Native actress, has appeared in a vast segment of Hollywood’s finest productions. From her beloved character Suzy Song in Smoke Signals to her voice work in Disney’s Pocahontas, Bedard has proven that a Native actress can make it to the big screen and then some. In July of 2012, Bedard co-starred in Colonial Williamsburg’s production of “The Beloved Woman,” with actor Wes Studi. During a rehearsal break, she took a few moments to speak with ICTMN about working with Studi, working as a Native actress and what’s to come in the future.
You are playing the Native character, Nanyehi in Colonial Williamsburg — how does it feel to be playing a native part as a native woman in an area rich in Colonial history?
This is one of the oldest areas of colonization. My character is a warrior woman, she is independent and fierce yet sometimes she is a speaker for peace. She can also say we will go to war. Women are part of the Council. The Cherokee people giving such a voice to the women in their community is something that is still not widely understood. That must have been very confusing and still I think somewhat confusing to people today who do not understand matrilineal societies so much. I think in so many ways we are still so … quite so patrilineal.
You have worked with West Studi many times in such projects as Edge of America and Cosmic Radio. What’s it like working with him?
He is funny. We joke that we follow each other around, but you know the native community is … as far as people that are in front of the camera and behind the camera as well, is a small community. I am really hopeful that that is going to change — I am hopeful that we get more representation in the media.
How do you feel that you have been portrayed as a Native actress?
I think the ways I have been in my career — at the start of it and even up until this point, Native people kind of got stuck in that historical drama-trauma, contemporary trauma thing. Right now I am moving into who we are today and who has inspired us from the past and where do we want to go to in the future. What makes us be here today and what has caused us to survive and even going beyond survival what is causing us to thrive and who are we as a thriving people. I am really excited about that because I think that – well in one sentence, I have been killed in so many ways… I am ready to live.
What’s next for you?
I just finished a film called Vertical — it is a story of women who are brought together with rock climbing and they make a pact that if one of them passes then they will make the climb and throw the ashes. It is sort of a Big Chill meets White Oleander type film. Cosmic radio is yet to come out and I just did the pilot for Longmire — so that has been fun. I’m about to start shooting a film called Dreamtime.
How does it feel to stand as a representation of what a Native person can accomplish?
That is a heavy duty question — this coming generation, those of us who have whatever gifts they may be — now is the time to give those gifts, because this coming generation needs them very much. We are unhealthy; we need to inspire each other to live life in a beautiful way and in the way of peace and understanding and enveloping all human people on this planet in one circle just like the medicine wheel. I believe that when we do give these gifts and we do impart this knowledge and give freely of who we are as indigenous people all around the world, it is going to create this beautiful awakening in the coming generation. I think it is already happening, I don’t think we’re going to destroy ourselves, I think we’re going to wake up.
To watch the live performance of “The Beloved Woman” with Irene Bedard and Wes Studi, click here to go to history.org.