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Drawing From History
The American Indians depicted in the story are Chiricahua Apache, who by 1886 numbered less than three-dozen men, women and children. Nonetheless, under the leadership of Geronimo, this small group waged one of the most powerful resistances to the continued Mexican- and U.S.-led incursions into their land. Those who weren't killed were forcibly removed from their lands, and relocated or imprisoned on the other side of the country, where many of them perished.

For Cowboys & Aliens, the filmmakers wanted the representation of American Indians to be as historically and culturally accurate as possible. For information about the Chiricahua, the team turned to New Mexico State University scholar SCOTT RUSHFORTH and Oliver Enjady, an Apache from the Mescalero Apache reservation.

The filmmakers knew that they wanted their interpretations to be respectful and authentic. Rushforth, who consulted with producers Howard and Grazer on The Missing, and Enjady were invaluable resources to the production. The consultants offered their advice on everything from traditional American Indian ceremonies to local garb and wiki-ups—the thatched huts that Chiricahua women made from brush, leaves and rushes. The men consulted on everything from the script to set, prop and costume design…down to the choice of horses for the Indians. They advised on the intricacies of the war dance and the singing of the song in the wiki-up when Jake takes medicine to remember who he is and what's happened to him. This song was borrowed from and performed by the Mescalero.

Enjady was the primary liaison between the Mescalero and the production, and he felt a responsibility to his people to make sure the film's representation of them was as accurate as possible. Indeed, in addition to the Mescalero he brought to work as dancers and extras in the film, he brought along four Medicine People, tribal leaders.

The war dance ceremony, with the cast and dozens of Mescalero singing and dancing around the fire, was shot over several nights in the New Mexico desert. The Mescalero designed the ceremonies, the dances and the songs. While it's a somber ceremony, the music and the dance are both lively.

Rushforth and Enjady also run Ndé Bizaa, the Mescalero Apache language program that works to keep the language and culture alive. Raoul Trujillo, the actor cast to play Chief Black Knife, is actually Apache but didn't speak the language when production began. Trujillo worked tirelessly with digital sound files Enjady and Rushforth had created to perfect his diction and accent. Commends Enjady: "He really cared to get it right.”

Enjady's help encompassed all aspects of the character of Chief Black Knife. "He helped in the making of the chief, in what the chief has to embody,” commends Trujillo. "Every time I went into a scene, I'd have a list in my head of aspects of the character Oliver gave me that rooted him in harmony, balance, trust and benevolence. I let that creep into my body and my performance.”

"I was very honored that what we brought helped the project,” says Enjady. He and Rushforth were pleased to see early suggestions about changes to the script come to life before the cameras. In preproduction, Enjady and Rushforth had conversations with the filmmakers about how Ella might interact with the Apaches when she, Jake, Dolarhyde and the others are taken prisoners by the Indians. They suggested, in keeping with her character, that she reveal that she can speak Apache and they even gave the filmmakers some lines she could say. "I thought it was forgotten,” says Enjady of the conversation they'd had months before, "then, all of a sudden, she was saying what we thought she should say.”

In addition to inviting Mescalero from Southern New Mexico, the production cast American Indians from all over the United States. They found that it was quite difficult to secure people who can ride a horse bareback at full run through the middle of the desert, and after a long casting call, many American Indian nations were represented.

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