Some personal thoughts on the passing of Dave Bald Eagle

There are people you meet in life — and they are not many — who have an air of true moral authority about them. This is something different from kindness, compassion, intelligence, or any other positive virtue. It is an aura, a presence, that allows them to command a room without speaking a word; it makes you feel that they have an understanding of the world that is both deeper and larger than yours. It is not that they have the answer. It is that they are the answer. You lean into them almost involuntarily.

Such a man was Dave Bald Eagle, the Lakota elder and moral center of Steven Simpson’s film adaptation of my book, Neither Wolf nor Dog.

Steven and I — mostly Steven — had combed the country looking for someone to play Dan. We had no money and were losing hope. Then Steven came across a man named Dave Bald Eagle. He went to visit him in his home in South Dakota and came away with a simple observation: Dave couldn’t play Dan, he was Dan. He embodied everything that I had tried to present in Dan, everything that had moved both my and Steven’s moral compasses toward the Indian people on our individual life journeys.

Dave agreed to do the film, and under the watchful eye of his wonderful wife, Josee, traveled the 250 miles from his home to the filming site on Pine Ridge.  Dave was 95 years old.

He worked, sometimes 10 hour days, bringing the character of Dan to life on the screen. Everyone involved with him felt both the personal difficulty he was experiencing and the sheer moral authority he possessed. In the end, he gave the world and the Indian people a gift that we all must cherish: he offered us a glimpse into the heart of a true Indian elder born into the old language and old ways.  He brought Dan alive, and in so doing, gave voice to the Native experience in a way that a lesser man could never have done.

Sometimes I’ll sit back and wonder what my artistic life has been all about.   When I think of Dave and what he gave us in his portrayal of Dan, it is not impossible — and I think that Steven would agree from his perspective — that my artistic purpose in life was to create an opportunity for this incredible man to articulate on screen something that the rest of America needs to see.

Thank you, Dave, for the gift of your presence. I am better for it. Steven is better for it. Chris and Richard and everyone else involved in the creation of the film is better for it. We will do our best to make sure that the world gets to see what you showed us. It was a privilege to walk a few steps with you on your life’s journey.

19 comments

  1. kerry says:

    goosebumps…thanks to you, Kent, for bringing Dan’s story to us, and to Dave Bald Eagle for being, living, and sharing this story we need so desperately today.
    “We are all connected.”

  2. I do so hope to get to see the movie, buy the DVD. I have loved your books about Dan forever and bought several people the books and they loved them too. We are all waiting to see the movie and praying we get to.

    I would love to see the man that portrayed Dan so perfectly as you have stated but in different words. To know that Dave was 95 and did all of that is amazing. Many blessings to him and his family at this time.

    Sincerely,

    Melissa

  3. Krystyn Knights says:

    Kent, you have given Dave Bald Eagle eternal life with this film, many will see what you have seen, many will learn what you have learned, and Dave will be in the hearts of all who see this film, “Neither Wolf Nor Dog”. I am also hoping I will be able to see it somehow.

  4. Lisa Neau says:

    Thank you for honoring this man in this way. I can see how your purpose was about bringing him to us all to share what you already have seen and know. It’s so hard losing our elders…. I don’t think that most of us understand what they take with them when they leave… what we never get back… I loved Dan in your books and can’t wait to see Dave bring him to life… these two men were intended for this great work and these important stories. Blessings and prayers for a beautiful journey home for Dave Bald Eagle… blessings and prayers for all who know and love him. He was a blessing for many. Respectfully…

  5. Meredith says:

    this is a sad loss for his loved ones and in your life and ours, so glad he’s become part of our lives thru the book and movie.

  6. What an amazing gift that this wise one was able to complete the filming of Neither Wolf Nor Dog. We cant’s wait to see the film. Having reread the book yet again, the power and the sadness for what we, the dominant culture, have done is overwhelming. May his family find peace and gratitude for all he means to them and to so many others.

  7. Shelley says:

    Oh No !! I didn’t know he died ! How disappointing ! I know how much everyone wanted him to live to see the movie he was in !! Very upsetting and sad… but at least we will have him forever on the big screen….and hopefully soon…
    RIP Dave Bald Eagle….very sorry to read this ..

  8. Bob Wolfe says:

    Thank you Kent for sharing once again in your most eloquent way, your passion, compassion and expression of love and those important things we should all feel as human beings. Be well my friend.

  9. Chris Cradock-Henry says:

    Kent thankyou for bringing Dave Bald Eagle into my reality . God Is : on no lesser plane , Dave is .

  10. Anne Heilman says:

    This was not an accident … your book – this movie – Mr. Bald Eagle … your voices coming together … Peace …

  11. Jay Red Hawk says:

    Thank You for your deep insight, understanding and beautifully articulate comments about our Ate. (Father)
    The light of the World is dimmer without him, but he is making his journey home to be with his Grandfathers & Grandmothers
    Respectfully,
    Jay

  12. Barb says:

    We’re all better for people such as Dan. I didn’t know him but so wish that I could have. Yet also feel that I did in some way. He exudes love and joy, compassion and humility. His eyes spoke volumes, his energy wisdom and so much knowledge. Mitakuye Oyasin.

  13. Paula Sibal says:

    What a privilege to have been able to spend time with such a man. I can only imagine what it must have been like. Sad to think that there are so few true leaders, such as him, left. Makes me wonder where we would be as a nation if we had followed men like him rather than elevating the bombastic, narcissistic politicians with no apparent moral compass, as has been the custom of the dominant society for WAAAAY too long. Thanks for posting this.

  14. Timothy J Canezaro says:

    Chief Dave was one of the most remarkable people I ever had the chance to spend time with and get to know. I know his large extended family must be offering prayers and gathering together. Josee came here as a young actress from Belgium and built an amazing life with him. Sure his final film project will be one to be remembered and cherished.

  15. terry says:

    May we honor those who show us the best of what it means to be human by learning well, living well, and loving well for the sake of us all.

  16. Denny Holmes says:

    Commanding a room without speaking a word. Oh my I can truly feel that. What a beautiful tribute to this gentle and most beautiful soul. Although I have not viewed this film yet I got a strong sense of his presence just from the clips. How fortunate for us all to have the opportunity to experience his presence through this film. Thank you Dan and Kent and all involved in bringing this beautiful story alive through your work. What a gift! Thank you so much.

  17. Jim Peacock says:

    Kent, I wanted to let you know that Dave was one of the South Dakota WWII veterans featured in Greg Latza’s book entitled Blue Stars. This book features stories about these brave young men and women did to contribute to the war effort. My Dad was a Pearl Harbor survivor and is also in Greg’s book. If you wish to contact Greg, I am sure that you both have common interests to share. His Facebook page is Greg Latza’s Photography.

  18. Larry ONeal says:

    Kent, hoping to be able to attend the showing of your film in Brookings, S.D. At the book festival in September. I am anxious to see Chief Dave Bald Eagle ‘ s portrayal of Dan. After so many years it wii be wonderful to see you again and renew our friendship.

  19. knerburn says:

    I think about you often, Larry, and wonder how you are doing. I’d love to see you in Brookings. Please keep me updated.

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