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Johnny Cash: Cherokee?

The Story


"The American Indian is coming into his own today," Johnny Cash tells Our Native Land host, Johnny Yesno, in this backstage interview after a Toronto show. Cash, who claimed he was part Cherokee, riffs on his new LP, Bitter Tears: Ballad of the American Indian, and acting in Gunfight, a film produced by the Jicarilla Apache tribe. A report on schooling in remote Ontario reserves follows. A feature on the Cowichan Reserve in Vancouver chronicles the slow struggle by many bands in the 1970s to deliver their own community services. An obituary for Senator James Gladstone closes the show.

Medium: Radio
Program: Our Native Land
Broadcast Date: Sept. 11, 1971
Guest(s): Len Andrews, Johnny Cash, Larry Joe, Elwood Moddess, Delia Opekakew, Fred Plain
Announcer: Corky Rawson
Host: Johnny Yesno
Producer: Elizabeth Samson
Duration: 4:59
This clip was edited for copyright reasons.

Did You know?


• Johnny Cash was told he was one-quarter Cherokee, but recanted the claim in the 1990s after he learned he was of full Scottish descent.

• Cash's recording Big Foot, describes the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre. Cash was a vocal supporter of the American Indian Movement throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

• Gunfight was the first Hollywood flick to be backed by an American Indian band. The 1,800-strong Jicarilla Apache tribe plowed $2 million into the 1971 film, mostly from their oil and gas investments. Chief Charlie Virgil liked the idea of casting Cash because the singer said he was one quarter Cherokee.

• American Indians continue to embrace Cash. Actor and singer Floyd Red Crow Westerman, best known for his role as Ten Bear in Dances with Wolves, released tribute CD covering Cash songs in 2006. Westerman, who died the following year, said, "Next to Hank Williams, [Cash] was the greatest artist in country music and he was very supportive of Indian rights."


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