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Robert Tree Cody/Facebook
Tree Cody with the Village People

A Man Called Tree: The Stepson of Iron Eyes Cody Is a Commanding Pow Wow Presence

Tish Leizens
4/2/13

 

Robert “Tree” Cody’s presence is commanding—not just because of his height but because he is a multi-talented flutist, singer, dancer, MC, actor and educator. When Tree talks, you listen, because he speaks in a clear, measured and respectful tone.

The Canyon Records recording artist also has impressive credentials, with 13 albums on the label, including a Grammy nomination for his album Heart of the Wind and five Native American Music Awards. He is a well-known performer at pow wows and on stages in the U.S. and abroad.

In the Maricopa language, Cody, 63, is known as Oou-Kas Mah Quet or “Thunder Bear.” While he was born in California, he stays close to his Native roots by living on the Navajo Nation in Arizona. Cody, Maricopa and Dakota, is a member of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, also in Arizona.

In an interview with ICTMN, he talks about his upcoming pow-wow feature film, Dance Hard, singing, dancing and hoops of the sporting kind. 

How do you like being called the world’s tallest fancy dancer?

I am a six-feet-nine-and-half-inch “tree.” That was what they called me when I was younger and even today. I was always one of the tallest on the pow wow circuits when I was fancy dancing. I feel flattered.

Do you feel awkward about your height?

No, I don’t feel awkward.  I know people see me as a tall guy. In my younger days, I played basketball for Fort Lewis College. I was the only Native American on the starting five. I played a lot of collegiate ball then. I also played many Native American basketball tournaments.

Why play music and dance when you could have possibly been a professional basketball player?

After a couple of years, I wiped out my knee. I had reconstructive surgery. I started playing the Native American flute at the age of five. I learned from traditional flute players, and in the 1950s and ‘60s and ‘70s I traveled the pow wow circuit extensively as a dancer.

Why are you so passionate about dancing and flute playing?

I love it! I started playing flute when I was young with my stepfather, Iron Eyes Cody. And for many years, I danced for my elders, grandparents and the ones who cannot dance. I started with fancy dancing and then traditional at pow wows. Lately, I have gotten to be pretty well known as an MC.

What was it like growing up?

I grew up with my stepfather in California. My real mother was from the Maricopa People, Salt River Reservation, in Arizona. She and my real father have passed on. My real father was from the Dakota Nation. Iron Eyes Cody and his wife, Bertha, adopted me and raised me in the traditional ways. They showed me the world of acting and the Native American ways of life. I have never forgotten my heritage.

You have a law degree?

I have a BA in law and Masters in Native and criminal Law. I never followed up because I became an entertainer.

How did you get involved with the film Dance Hard?

I was chosen, along with my cousin Norman Roach, Lakota, as a technical advisor for this movie. I have seen the evolution of pow wows—how they were and how they are today. We want to make this movie historically correct.

Do you like how the pow wows have evolved?

Not really. Maybe yes and no. It is good that a lot of dancers today have won prize money. But a lot of it is based on prize money. Some dancers don’t dance for the people, but some dancers do dance for the elders. Some traditions have been forgotten and some have been kept.

Tell us about Native Wisdom, your dance troupe.

Six years ago, with my wife, Cynthia, son and two daughters, we started doing shows at the Grand Canyon West Skywalk. Our children are still members of the dance troupe and our members—some are champions—do a variety of styles like jingle, fancy and chicken dance. Our group shows are beautiful, entertaining and educational. I am the director and I also sing for the dancers. There are different songs for men and different songs for women. I play the flute and songs from my albums and I know songs from different tribes.

What keeps you going?

My family, my wife and my children—my wife has been there for me. She is my rock. She keeps me level headed in my approach to the world.

What’s your message to the youth?

I always encourage them to learn their cultural language and the ways of their people.

 

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Comments

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Where or who can I get info regarding Chief Eagle Plume ? He is my11th GreatGrandfather.I was dissapointmented about not being able to get adopted into the tribe. Any Pow Wow's or anything coming up ? I have checked Ancestry.com & I would love to hear from any other descendants please e-mail me skeeter70@roadrunner.com

Francis Ghostman's picture
Francis Ghostman
Submitted by Francis Ghostman on
I am from the first Nations peoples of the Assiniboine people. The comment from Marie Tall is very rude and uncalled for. Are You a native? and if so what nations? I've Known Tree Cody for over 30 yrs, and I can tell you Marie that He is as real as He is. I'm sure his family from the Salt River Rez and His Dakota families would love to confront you on this matter. Remember, never judge a book by it's cover. We will be watching. Thank for this little time.

Tree Cody Friend's picture
Tree Cody Friend
Submitted by Tree Cody Friend on
Tree Cody is my friend. I am from Lame Deer, Montana. I enjoy spending time with him when I see him....which isn't too often. The last time is seen Tree was at a Spiritual Warm Dance on the Shoshone Bannock Reservation. Tree is my friend.

Marj Bearing
Marj Bearing
Submitted by Marj Bearing on
I am a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe in Montana and I would also like to point out that marie tall's comment is rude. I grew up knowing Tree as my uncle and remember traveling with him to pow-wows. This was over 25 years ago and he lived on our reservation and was part of the community. He speaks better Cheyenne than I do too! Just for your information marie tall.

Virginia's picture
Virginia
Submitted by Virginia on
I do like all about this people.I try to understand them.How they survived.Last year in a conversation with a friend at his house I have a vision of a man and Indian from a tribu I saw it with my mind ,so I long into interned and keep looking until I find this man wow it was a chief of Dacota Tribu I never forget his face...I even dreams with this people wonder why..is like I felt something for them..I just wich to know why it happen to me..thank you.

Whistling Wind's picture
Whistling Wind
Submitted by Whistling Wind on
Tree Cody is a good person. He has made mistakes like everyone, but he honors the people and is very intelligent. Which means he is human. Good story and good to see he is still performing.
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