May 26, 2012

Johnny Depp is honorary Comanche

The Associated Press published this account of Johnny Depp's adoption a day or so after other news outlets, but I didn't see it until now. Too bad, because it addresses a key point.

Comanche Tribe Makes Johnny Depp Honorary MemberJohnny Depp has been made an honorary member of the Comanche tribe.

Depp is in New Mexico, shooting the film adaptation of "The Lone Ranger." He plays "Ranger" sidekick Tonto in the film.

Comanche Nation tribal member LaDonna Harris said Tuesday that the tribal chairman presented Depp with a proclamation at her Albuquerque home May 16. She said the Comanche adoption tradition means she now considers Depp her son.

Harris said Depp seemed humbled.
Comment:  Ah, an answer to my questions. Contradicting the initial media reports, including the uncritical report from Indian Country Today, Depp is only an honorary member. He was not adopted into the Comanche Nation as a full member.

My impression is the AP saw the same articles I did and asked the same questions. That's why its article uses the "honorary member" phrase so prominently. It's a big thumbed-nose at the rest of the media. "Ha ha, we got it right and you didn't."

But this brief report didn't answer all my questions. In particular, I wondered what the proclamation said. So I looked into it a little more and found the Comanches' own report on the event in the Comanche Nation News:

June 2012 Issue

I can't link directly to the article, but it's on page 5. The headline says:

International Actor, Johnny Depp, Made Goodwill Ambassador to the Comanche Nation; Adopted by Tribal Elder Harris

So the news, according to the Comanches' own headline, isn't that Depp is a member or an honorary member. It's that he's a goodwill ambassador--a point no one's mentioned until now.

The proclamation says less than I thought it would. It recognizes Depp as a "ceremonial member" of Harris's family and names him a "Goodwill Ambassador" for the Comanche Nation. It doesn't say he's any kind of member of the tribe.

Elsewhere in the article, writer Jolene Schonchin suddenly refers to Depp as "an honorary member of the tribe." But it's not clear how Depp got that way. Was Harris's adoption ceremony enough to accomplish it? Did the tribal council declare it in another proclamation? Or...?

The implication is that anyone who's adopted by a tribal member becomes an honorary member. So Depp may be an honorary member by tradition or custom. Since we've yet to see any official word from the tribe, even the "honorary" designation is in doubt. Maybe Harris considers her "son" an honorary member but the rest of the tribe doesn't.

In any case, Depp is an honorary member at most, not a full member. And therefore still not an Indian.

For more on the subject, see Jones:  "Depp Is an Indian" and The Magical Power of Adoption.

No comments: