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Like most Native Americans of his generation, Floyd Westerman was wrenched away from the arms of his family at the age of five and sent off to a government boarding school nearly 100 miles away. These blatant attempts to destroy Indian civilization by breaking up families and making traditions obsolete became one of many subjects Westerman would take on when he developed into an important Native American protest singer and actor.
A Dakota Sioux, Westerman remained at the boarding school for the next 12 years, until he had finished high school. By this time he had learned guitar after watching the older students play and picking up some basic chords from them. Like many players who begin with rock or folk music, he sensed that learning three chords was enough to perform much of the music that was circulating at the time, and he was right. He enjoyed music and he continued playing and singing after graduation. He was influenced by both the folk music of Bob Dylan and fellow Native American Buffy St. Marie, but, like many Native Americans, deeply loved country & western music and had a sincere fondness for one of its most expressive geniuses, Hank Williams. In a tribute to his own family dynasty, Westerman began using the name Red Cloud, which he had inherited from his grandfather and which had important spiritual connotations among the Sioux people.
Westerman began performing in the Colorado area, his guitar playing improving considerably. At this time he established a friendship with the young author Vine Deloria Jr., also a songwriter. The subject of many of their discussions was the lack of songs about Native American issues and traditions. A collaboration began, as Westerman took sections of Deloria's book, Custer Died for Your Sins, and created profound, sometimes humorous songs from the subjects. This work led to signing a recording contract in 1969 in New York City, and the eventual release of the first of two albums Westerman has recorded, titled after his friend's book. The album had a strong country flavor that suited Westerman's voice and has remained a sought-after classic ever since. It went out of print and was eventually released by Westerman himself, mostly distributed directly at his concerts and personal appearances.
Westerman has performed all over the world, including large benefit and festival appearances with Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, Harry Belafonte, Kris Kristofferson, and Jackson Browne. He has been heavily involved with AIM, the American Indian Movement, during his entire career and has testified at congressional hearings on Native American issues, such as uranium mining. Although highly respected for his musical and songwriting accomplishments, he has actually had more time in the mainstream spotlight with his work as an actor. He made his screen debut in Renegades, playing the father of Lou Diamond Phillips. Since that time, his list of credits includes roles in Dances With Wolves, The Doors (he was Jim Morrison's spiritual guide), Lakota Woman, Clearcut, and Grey Owl. He has also shown up on the small screen, playing the role of Uncle Ray on Walker, Texas Ranger as well as leads on Northern Exposure, L.A. Law, X-Files, Millenium, Roseanne, and appearances as Sitting Bull in the four-hour miniseries Son of the Morning Star.
Westerman kept up an active schedule, his work as both an actor and musician focusing on "...the institutions that have destroyed our rights," he says. "That's what our struggle is all about, our spiritual rights and the Indian point of view...And they're so old, they make the Bible look like it was recently written."