Nakoda elder Faye Filesteel made an appearance in the fourth episode of season five around the 30-minute mark, where she plays Monica’s (Kelsey Asbille) grandmother. The episode includes a burial ceremony for Monica and Kayce’s (Luke Grimes) child. Monica, an Indigenous character in the show, cuts her hair and places her braid on the child’s coffin, which is traditional in some Native cultures. The camera pans to Filesteel, who is wearing her own ribbon skirt and black shirt. She holds a bouquet of flowers and looks sorrowful as she gazes at the coffin. Filesteel will also appear in episode five of the show — this time, as a member of the tribal council.
Filesteel, 84, is a retired teacher at Harlem Public Schools who says she has “so many (grandchildren) I’ve lost count.” She said she had a great time on set in Darby and was impressed that many of the actors went out of their way to visit with her. Kevin Costner, who plays family patriarch John Dutton, drove her around in his VIP off-road vehicle. He also showed Filesteel his RV, which he called his “home away from home.”
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“They made sure this old grandma was well taken care of!” Filesteel said. “It was an experience I don’t think I’ll ever forget. It will be with me for a long time.”
The show, which drew 8.8 million viewers on the season five premiere, has received some criticism for its portrayal of Native Americans. In “Yellowstone,” Monica is a member of a fictional tribe headquartered on the Broken Rock Indian Reservation. Asbille, who plays Monica, also starred in “Wind River” and falsely claimed to be a member of the Eastern Cherokee Band of Indians. The show has also been accused of glorifying the settler colonial version of history.
Despite the controversy, Filesteel said the burial ceremony in episode four was culturally accurate. She said Mo Brings Plenty, who is Lakota and an actor in the show, helps ensure the show handles Indigenous issues with sensitivity. Filesteel said Brings Plenty’s family members were also extras in the funeral scene, which depicted Lakota funeral customs.
“When Monica lays her braid down on the casket, that’s accurate,” Filesteel said. “That’s probably the best we’ve seen Native people depicted in Hollywood. I was impressed.”
Though they filmed the scene multiple times from different angles, Filesteel said she was emotional each time. As she watched Monica mourn her child, a real tear rolled down Filesteel’s cheek.
Filesteel’s daughter, Connie Filesteel, said when her mother first said she was emotional in the scene, she thought her mother was kidding.
“And then someone said, ‘That’s how you know someone’s a good actress,’” Connie said.