1923 helps tell the story of the Dutton family’s rise to power in present-day Yellowstone, but it also shares the horrific treatment that Montana’s indigenous people suffered at the hands of Catholic missionaries. Aminah Nieves stars in the series as one of the women most brutalized by the church, and as she recalled during a recent interview, taking the part was a heartbreaking but necessary decision that she made for her ancestors.
Nieves, who plays Teonna Rainwater, a relative of Yellowstone’s Thomas Rainwater, was well aware of her Native American relative’s tragic past while growing up. But most of the world was and still is uneducated about what happened during the Catholic colonization.
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When Nieves saw the opportunity to share the story through the highly acclaimed franchise, she wasn’t sure she could stomach portraying the heartbreaking and often gruesome truth. But her mother helped her understand a different perspective.
Audition for the Role was a Hard Choice for the Actress
While talking to Deadline, the actress admitted that an internal struggle led her in two directions. She initially reached out to her manager and admitted that she was conflicted because she knew the work would be “heavy and triggering.” They said they’d support her decision either way.
But her mom helped her understand that the opportunity would mean everything to her people, and she couldn’t squander it.
“My mom is my reader for everything,” she told the publication. “We talked about it a lot. I did the audition the day it was due because I waited so long. I was scared. My mom was like, ‘Aminah, you have to do this, not just for you, it’s for us. It’s for our communities and for all indigenous peoples across the world.’”
During the colonization, the Catholic church opened schools for Indigenous children that encouraged them “to abandon their traditional languages, cultures, and practices,” according to an essay by Mary Annette Pember in The Atlantic. Hundreds, if not thousands, of children lost their lives due to abuse or neglect and were buried in unmarked graves.
Aminah Nieves Says There is One More Heartache in Store For Teonna on ‘1923’
Aminah Nieves admitted that filming the scenes was terrifying and traumatic, but creator Taylor Sheridan did an outstanding job retelling the truth, and he and the others on set, especially Jennifer Ehle, who played one of the most abusive characters, sister Mary, were sympathetic and sensitive to what the role meant to her.
“Jennifer is just an incredible talent. I bow to her. She was so tender and kind, moving through everything that we did. We talked a little bit before each scene… Then we’d be, alright, let’s shoot it. You kind of have to separate yourself a little bit from what’s happening because it’s a lot of physical and spiritual energy.”
Teonna was able to find redemption, which helped Nieves work through the process. But it was also “the hardest scene” for her and Ehle to shoot because it was a horrible thing that Teonna had to do.
But Nieves teased that there is even more heartache ahead on tonight’s season finale, so fans should be prepared.
“Have your box of tissues at hand,” she concluded. “Episode eight really destroyed me.”