Larry Sellers, The True Native American

Author: C.L. Harmon
Date Published: June 10, 2017
Larry Sellers and C.L. Harmon on a front porch. They are posing after an interview about Larry's celebrity status as a Native American actor.

Out­side my win­dow is a wood­peck­er tap­ping away at an oak tree. To most, this is of no impor­tance. But to Lar­ry Sell­ers, it has mean­ing. Per­haps even a mes­sage from one who has already passed on. There is the old com­ic quip, ‘I am not a doc­tor, but I play one on TV.’ If this were Sell­ers, he would tweak that quip and say, I am an Indi­an, and I played one on TV. How­ev­er, to say he is just an Indi­an is a gross understatement. 

This Pawhus­ka native is the very def­i­n­i­tion of what it tru­ly means to be a Native Amer­i­can. Sip­ping black cof­fee from a mug with the word “Lako­ta” stamped on it and sur­round­ed by walls adorned with Indi­an art cer­tain­ly rein­forces his con­vic­tion for the pride that all native peo­ples should feel about their heritage.

HERITAGE VERSUS HOLLYWOOD

Although Sell­ers is of Osage/Cherokee her­itage and an adopt­ed mem­ber of the Lako­ta tribe, his char­ac­ter Cloud Danc­ing on the tele­vi­sion show Dr. Quinn Med­i­cine Woman was a role where he por­trayed an Indi­an of the Cheyenne tribe. He told the pro­duc­ers that for him to play the part, the char­ac­ter must be brought across as the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the real Native Amer­i­can both of trib­al eth­nic­i­ty and as a whole of the Native Amer­i­can peoples. 

Sell­ers act­ing cred­its include movies such as “Son of the Morn­ing Star,” “Quick and the Dead,” “Rev­o­lu­tion,” “Like Father — Like Son,” “Assas­si­na­tion, and “Wayne’s World II.” plus his tele­vi­sion cred­its. He was also a stunt­man dur­ing his career.

For Sell­ers, though, act­ing was art imi­tat­ing life. Above being an actor or stunt­man, Sell­ers has always been true to him­self first. He even turned down a role in the Kevin Cost­ner film Dances With Wolves because an agree­ment could not be made that allowed him the four days required for him to par­tic­i­pate in the Sun­dance Ceremony.

THE LONG JOURNEY

At the age of 28, his moth­er passed away, and his father’s health was in decline. Sell­ers then began walk­ing around the Indi­an Camp not far from where he lived. Sud­den­ly he sees a vision of Indi­ans danc­ing and hears the word “Sun­dance” spo­ken to him.

He had no idea what that was as he had nev­er heard the term. At that moment and feel com­pelled to act, he prayed and said if his dad’s health improved, he would track down the ori­gins of that word.

“The very next day, my father was total­ly dif­fer­ent.” With his father’s restored health, he began car­ry­ing through with his promise and start­ed research­ing just pre­cise­ly what is Sun­dance. It didn’t take long to learn that it was a native cer­e­mo­ny. Learn­ing its full mean­ing, how­ev­er, would take a bit longer. The Sun­dance, he real­ized, was the most impor­tant cer­e­mo­ny prac­ticed by the Lako­ta (Sioux) and near­ly all Plains Indians.

It was an act of renew­al for the tribe, peo­ple, and earth per def­i­n­i­tion. But as Sell­ers explains, it is actu­al­ly a reli­gious revival of sorts with humil­i­ty at its core. The prayers and sac­ri­fice of no food and water for four days and the dance are gifts to the uni­verse and for all peo­ples as well. Also, they are pleas for help and offer­ings of thanks to those alive and those who have passed on to the next stage of life’s journey.

Sell­ers was instruct­ed about the cer­e­mo­ny from the Lako­ta in South Dako­ta. After danc­ing with them, he was guid­ed by them to bring the dance back to the Osage peo­ple. That was 19 years ago. Sell­ers has been danc­ing now for 38 years, keep­ing the jour­ney began by his ances­tors mov­ing into the 21st century.

THE NATIVE TONGUE

In his plight to keep the tra­di­tions of old alive, Sell­ers oper­ates two non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tions. The first is the Mis­sion­ary Soci­ety for the Preser­va­tion of Tra­di­tion­al Val­ues, which empha­sizes tra­di­tion­al native val­ues of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. Peo­ple from all over the US are mem­bers of this orga­ni­za­tion and active­ly work to keep the her­itage and his­to­ry of Native Amer­i­cans alive. 

The oth­er is Friends of the Osage Lan­guage. This is where mem­bers raise mon­ey to help in pro­vid­ing stu­dents with the tools nec­es­sary for cre­at­ing a pos­i­tive self-image for them­selves in using the lan­guage. One way in which he aids in the organization’s suc­cess is by speak­ing to stu­dents in Osage, thus prompt­ing them to do the same and to be proud that they can talk in their ances­tral tongue. “Our lan­guage is our iden­ti­ty, a part of who we are. It’s our culture.”

Dr. Quinn was the first show to incor­po­rate native thought into their writ­ing. It was a good thing for indige­nous peo­ples because it was a chance to human­ize us and not por­tray tribes as the mighty war­rior bands.

“ We laugh, we cry, we joke, we mourn. We do all those things.” Sell­ers was the tech­ni­cal advi­sor on the show. As such, he point­ed out dis­tinc­tions such as why would the pro­duc­ers wish to por­tray a white man on the show that could speak South­ern Cheyenne flu­ent­ly, but he, as a Cheyenne, could only speak bro­ken Eng­lish. In oth­er words, why would one race of peo­ple be more intel­li­gent than anoth­er race? This stereo­type is what he worked to change through his efforts on the show and in his per­son­al life.

He believes, as his ances­tors did. Every­thing in nature is alive with a lan­guage to com­mu­ni­cate and that all life is con­nect­ed, even when that life pass­es into the spir­it realm. Con­nect­ing with nature in mod­ern church­es is not some­thing prac­ticed. But tra­di­tion­al Indi­an cer­e­monies and cus­toms were the wor­ship of all things in nature; a con­nec­tion to all life, he explained Sell­ers hope through his efforts, those of Native Amer­i­can ances­try will embrace those ele­ments of trib­al cul­ture which defines them as a sin­gle race wor­thy of preservation.

LARRY SELLERS HEADED HOME

With­out going into too much his­to­ry of Indi­ans and their removal from their home­lands in the expand­ing US of the 19th cen­tu­ry. Sell­ers explained the white cul­ture should under­stand that through Euro­pean beliefs of civ­i­liza­tion and Chris­tian­i­ty and their use of tech­niques such as board­ing schools designed to ‘edu­cate’ their native lifestyle out and repro­gram them to the white ways and the Indi­an Removal Act of 1830. It was a type of cul­tur­al geno­cide that was used to dri­ve out the old ways to make way for the white man’s def­i­n­i­tion of civ­i­liza­tion and assim­i­la­tion to the major­i­ty-Euro­pean culture.

It’s not that Sell­ers has an issue with the mod­ern world or its beliefs. He doesn’t. His pas­sion for pre­serv­ing tra­di­tion­al cus­toms and val­ues comes from the real­iza­tion that what was once a trust­ed belief sys­tem for gen­er­a­tions is not wrong now mere­ly because it is no longer the dom­i­nant belief sys­tem of the mod­ern cul­ture. In many ways, his efforts are to pro­vide a jour­ney home. Tak­ing all peo­ple back to a time and place where the con­nec­tion between peo­ple and nature was nour­ished, and those native peo­ples flour­ished with­in the embrace of Moth­er Nature.

 

Unique­la­homa

C.L. Harmon

C.L. Harmon

C.L. is an award-winning journalist who spent many years in the newspaper and freelance fields. In addition to holding reporting and editing positions throughout his career, he also owned and operated a newspaper for several years. He was born, raised, and continues to reside in Oklahoma.

13 Comments

  1. Anne Katz

    I don’t know why as I am not well edu­cat­ed about the native Amer­i­can cul­ture. But I strive to learn as much as I pos­si­bly can because it was so wrong of the white man to rob our native Amer­i­cans of their cul­ture their reli­gion their dress and their home. I will always be an advo­cate of our Native Amer­i­cans and if I’m lucky some­day I will get to Vis­it a real Native Amer­i­can tribe. No one has more respect for this earth than they do, and you must applaud that.

    Reply
    • Patricia Mitchell

      Abso­lut­ley!

      Reply
    • Heidi Priddy

      I agree. As with all cul­tures of the past, there is much wis­dom and so much we can learn. Our diver­si­ty as humans is what makes our species so unique. To dis­miss and destroy our past is to destroy our humanity.

      Reply
      • ASHLEY D BOYD

        Dear Mr. C. L. Harmon,

        As I laid awake in bed this morn, a bit after 6am, I was immersed in yet anoth­er an episode of ‘Dr. Quinn, Med­i­cine Woman’ as I pre­pared to start my day. 

        I’ve long appre­ci­at­ed this past pro­duc­tion: the amaz­ing cast, tal­ent­ed writ­ing staff and its’ cre­ator and I admired the gen­uine authen­tic­i­ty they brought to each episode. 

        I was always par­tic­u­lar­ly moved by the inclu­sion of and touch­ing per­for­mances of Mr. Lar­ry Sell­ers who por­trayed Cheyenne native ‘Cloud Danc­ing’ on the series. His integri­ty in the role, charm and char­ac­ter, gen­tle strength and ‘spir­it of human­i­ty’ made Mr. Sell­ers a per­son­al favorite and quite hon­est­ly, “a secret crush”. 

        Iron­i­cal­ly, today’s episode dealt with one of the very sub­ject mat­ters you wrote about in your arti­cle Mr. Har­mon: the clash of cul­tures involv­ing the edu­ca­tion of the chil­dren in the local tribes and Cloud Danc­ing’s emo­tion­al involve­ment in these teach­ings. It was a piv­otal moment for his char­ac­ter and a pow­er­ful mes­sage episode regard­ing the white man’s hor­rif­i­cal­ly inva­sive “cleans­ing”, cul­tur­al slaugh­ter and hor­rif­ic forced assim­i­la­tion of the indige­nous peo­ple of this nation. It was very hard for me to watch, as these atroc­i­ties and much, much worse, actu­al­ly hap­pened. But Mr. Sell­ers was phe­nom­e­nal in his per­for­mance and I was actu­al­ly moved to tears, as he was obvi­ous­ly very impas­sioned about the sub­ject, which was again giv­en proof in your article. 

        So, I was tru­ly dev­as­tat­ed when I learned, at the close of this episode today, that Mr. Sell­ers had recent­ly passed, just at the end of last year. What A Loss! (I cried again) Mr. Sell­ers’ Cloud Danc­ing was “larg­er than life” on-screen and I felt a true and deep kin­ship with him through his riv­et­ing role. 

        I just found your arti­cle this morn­ing as well Mr. Har­mon and I just want­ed to per­son­al­ly “Thank You”, for your insight­ful prose, infor­ma­tive research and mov­ing trib­ute to the great and heart­break­ing­ly late, Mr. Sell­ers. Your words val­i­dat­ed and hon­ored this gift­ed man and ded­i­cat­ed activist far beyond-the-screen and I for one tru­ly appre­ci­at­ed read­ing it as I’m sure his loved ones did.

        I hope that ALL of us as res­i­dents of this coun­try and inhab­i­tants of this incred­i­ble but pre­car­i­ous­ly frag­ile plan­et, will learn to live in respect­ful har­mo­ny with each oth­er AND with nature, and to learn from and appre­ci­ate what Every Liv­ing Enti­ty has to offer…

        So Take Care ‘Neigh­bor’ and May PEACE Be With You, now and always

        Ash­ley (in Dallas)

        Reply
    • Frances

      Com­plete­ly agree. I have always hat­ed about how the native peo­ple were treat­ed. I love how they respect nature and make it part of their beliefs.

      Reply
  2. Ilene Klinghoffer

    Please cor­rect the spelling of Lar­ry Sell­ers’ name in the places where it is mis­spelled as Sel­l­ars. The arti­cle is clear­ly meant to be respect­ful, but the repeat­ed mis­spelling of Sell­ers’ name belies the arti­cle’s intent.

    Reply
    • CL Harmon

      Thank you Ilene for point­ing out that error. We do this on the side and take pride in our work but some­times we need the help! Please, feel free to let us know about any­thing else you find.

      Reply
      • Heidi Priddy

        Looks like you have a copy edi­tor and proof­read­er! I do the same for my hus­band and screen­writ­ers. It’s always good to have a sec­ond eye on what we pub­lish. Per­haps because the flow of infor­ma­tion has increased so much in recent years, the amount of typos I encounter is quite high. I find things even in arti­cles by jour­nal­ists work­ing for com­pa­nies like The Wash­ing­ton Post or CNN. You might ask Ilene to do a once over, would­n’t hurt. I would­n’t mind doing that for you from time to time myself. Many bless­ings CL, you have a good thing going at Uniquelahoma.

        Reply
        • Elizabeth

          Did he play in oth­er movies

          Reply
  3. Adam Gray

    Great read, My first expe­ri­ence read­ing about native Amer­i­cans and their beliefs but won’t be my last. Thank you!

    Reply
  4. Suzan

    Lar­ry Sell­ers is leg­endary in his ded­i­ca­tion to rep­re­sent the Native Amer­i­can. Its what mankind can aspire to.

    Reply
  5. Debora Morton

    I came to know Lar­ry Sell­ers recent­ly while binge watch­ing Dr Quinn Med­i­cine Women. I imme­di­ate­ly con­nect­ed with him and his char­ac­ter. He was unique strong wise kind. As I have read fur­ther about him in real life that descrip­tion is who is was. A leader on the set and bridger of cul­tures. So admire him- his phi­los­o­phy of life, as an edu­ca­tor and his tak­ing action for Native peo­ple. A bright light on this earth. My sym­pa­thies to the Sell­ers fam­i­ly on his passing.

    Reply
  6. Isabelle

    May I ask you what is the detail of the award pho­tographed? I can read “First Amer­i­cans in the Arts” “Dr. Quinn Med­i­cine Woman” but no more. Year ? Cat­e­go­ry? Thank you

    Reply

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