The Tonto Files: Of Poetry, Tonto, and the 24-7 Indian

Simon Moya-Smith on Johnny Depp as Tonto in the new Lone Ranger movie

The Tonto Files is an occasional series of ruminations and riffs on Tonto, a fictional sidekick from the radio days who is suddenly the world's most talked about Indian. That'll happen to a guy when Johnny Depp plays him in a $250 million summer blockbuster (coming June 2013). In this installment, Simon Moya-Smith ponders, poetically, the justice of it all:

Oh, Mr. Poe, your revered Raven isn’t perched above a bust of Pallas these days. No, sir. The beautiful beast rests & nests on the noodle of nouveau Native Johnny Depp, and it’ll remain there to flit and flutter until the 120-day, $250 million production of Disney’s The Lone Ranger has exhausted every coin in its high-dollar coffer or until Johnny learns how to ride a pony without a fumble and tumble … Quoth the Raven.

OK. Enough of that. Yes, I’ve never been quite the poet. Even when I was tasked at 19 with taking pen to parchment as a loud and loose lyricist for a Denver local band I hadn’t the passion for stanzas or for the symphony of sexy rocker screeds. No. I’ll leave that work to Mr. Maynard James Keenan. That’s his bailiwick anyway – that and the vino.

Well it’s got to be about 10 p.m. now and I’ve got an episode of The Lone Ranger with Jay Silverheels as Tonto running on my 42-inch flat screen in the front room. The volume’s at full-bore (which is probably pissing off my neighbors at this hour) so I can hear the 1940s malicious and pernicious dipshittery that flew from white man mouths in those days – and much of it is still with us. “Oh, you Injuns. Just get over it already, won’t ya? Here, have a Redskins jersey.”

FACT: “Getting over it” implies that a foul offense or an iniquitous injustice is done and gone, something to reflect on and learn from decades, even centuries after the matter. Ah, slick, it’s not, not by a long shot – not while there’s a Columbus Day and Thanksgiving and the Cleveland Indians and Urban Outfitters. Lo, that’s the ethos of our generation, bub. So, no, there’s nothing to get over, not yet anyway. And with the Keystone XL Pipeline looming and lurching from the seedy pits of D.C., we may yet have another battle to paint our faces for – all of us. Indeed.

Jesus, I just went on some terse tangent there, didn’t I? Well I do that sometimes, which is why I have a knack for this Op/Ed game. It’s basically the only dept. in all of journalism that’ll tolerate scribes like me, guys with grudges and pens who write ugly tales of babbling bigots all the while Tonto talks like a bumbling buffoon on the TV in the next room.

The episode I have on is titled, “The White Man’s Magic.” Right now, a half-white, half-Indian Army sergeant is attempting to murder an unflappable, peace-seeking chief by poisoning his stew. This agley scene has got me doleful and down. I need a pick-me-up. Turn this vicious muck off, open iTunes and play some Puscifer. Yes. Play The Rapture (Fear is a Mind Killa Mix). … Now we can write about ol’ Johnny boy.

I was told sometime ago by a fellow journo that the recently adopted Comanche owns an island somewhere in the Caribbean. Mr. J. Sparrow has even gone on record saying that money can’t buy you happiness, “but it buys you a big enough yacht to sail right up to it.” That may be true, Johnny, but it can also help sustain a bevy of impoverished American Indian men, women and elders on reservations from sea to shining sea – just a suggestion, captain. Land ho.

I feel like that last paragraph read a little sardonic and sour. Well that wasn’t the tone for which I was aiming. I’m merely attempting to bridge (if not illustrate) the ideological watershed between he and I and every other First Nation fellow: I’m not affluent, but I do what I can for my people. He’s opulent and owns an island. Knowing the state of Indian Country these days, I’m not sure I could buy an island (if I ever had the dough to do so) and not lose sleep over the mighty epicurean purchase, not while Indian elders – the keepers of our stories and language – fight the cold and gas company just to keep the heat on during the deadly winter months.

And what the Hell happened to the harmonious, happy and humorous piece I resolved to write when I first sat at this wobbly table!? Well, whatever it was going to be is gone now and all that’s left is just the cold, hard ugliness the Depp-as-Tonto matter goaded out of me and onto this page. And it’s getting late anyway. Time for some mean muckraking! Romney is on CNN again, so I suppose my mood isn’t slated to get any better.

So here’s to Johnny, folks: may he comprehend that being American Indian is more than just playing one, it’s being one 24/7, 365 … it’s a way of life and it entails helping your people whenever they’re in need, and boy, they’re in need. Hoka.

Still Not A Mascot,

-Simon Moya-Smith