Millville's Cherokee craftsman making costumes and making movies
Bob Strong Bear and Graham Greene, during filming of Christmas in the Clouds at Park City. / Photo courtesy of Bob Strong Bear Bates
MILLVILLE -- Between raising three kids, working with the Millville Planning and Zoning Commission and doing his duty as chief of the Bear River Band of the Southern Cherokee Nation, Bob Strong Bear Bates hardly has time for Hollywood.
Bates, licensed Cherokee craftsman and Millville resident, has worked on the costuming of several films, including Dances With Wolves, Last of the Dogmen and, most recently, Christmas in the Clouds, which stars Graham Greene as a master chef and will be released around Thanksgiving.
In addition to costuming, he also played Greene's "prep chef" in the movie.
Though Bates said he isn't above making the occasional Dreamcatcher, he specializes in traditional Native American costuming and weaponry. One of his favorites is called a pipe tomahawk. It's a combination peace pipe/hatchet, useful in negotiations.
"You could either bury the hatchet one way or the other," he said with a chopping motion.
He makes no claim to being original. His craft is accomplished by careful research and communication with others in the trade.
"I doubt there is anything I could do with traditional material that has not been done, at some point, by some tribe or nation," Bates said.
Bates said he was the Native American coordinator for the Festival of the American West for about five years before severe health problems sidelined him in 1995. He has also worked extensively with the Boy Scouts of America in Cache Valley since he arrived in 1986, showing costumes and educating Scouts on the history of American Indians. He also takes special orders.
"Two years ago, I got a phone call and this lady said, 'I want a buckskin wedding dress,'" Bates recalled.
Serving as chief of the Bear River Band, Bates said he helps people discover their American Indian heritage, settles disputes among members and organizes gatherings, one of which was April 30 in the Millville City Park.
"Everybody wants to be a chief, but nobody wants to do the work," Bates said. "And believe me, there is a lot."
The Southern Cherokee Nation is "a nation within a nation," according to its web-site, www.southern-cherokee.com. It was established for Cherokees of mixed blood to rediscover their heritage and find a community of others with a common interest. Bates said intermarriage between settlers and natives was common in the 1700's. Settlers were adopted into the tribe after marriage. He said his name comes from a Scottish man who married into the tribe during this period. Because of the adoption of partners, Bates said he considers himself a full-blooded Cherokee.
In addition to these responsibilities, and serving as an alternate commissioner with Planning and Zoning, Bates said he is "Mr. Mom" to his three children, who range from 9 years down to 20 months. He served in the military for 19 years and once worked as a police officer in Houston, but said raising children is just as difficult.
"Both of those (the military and the police force) are pretty strenuous jobs, but they got nothing on being Mr. Mom," he said.
Anyone interested in Native American crafts or the Southern Cherokee Nation can contact Bates; by phone at 752-5512; by mail at P.O. Box 169, Millville, Utah 84326; or email him at email@example.com.