SOUTH CONGAREE, S.C. – Steve Silverheels, a Mohawk and Seneca Indian and a minister, lived in Wilmington, N.C. for more than 14 years and now plans to move west to Brevard, N.C. to build the Silverheels House of Nations.
“We’re going to build a ranch and have a learning center,” Silverheels said, sitting near the sacred circle at a Native American powwow. “So Native American pastors can come, and other people can come too. We’re going to have a big rodeo arena, and we can have gospel music, powwows and all the people can come together. It will be a central point.”
The idea for the learning center came to him in a vision. “I got the vision in 1980 from the Great Spirit, and I kept it in my heart,” he said. After more than 25 years, he gave his plans to an architect who put it to paper. Silverheels added, “I said, this is the vision. Now it’s going to become a reality.”
When the vision first came to him, Silverheels was not ready, but “you grow, and as you grow, God gives you more and more and more, and that’s how it works.” Growing until the time was right.
As a minister, Silverheels gets invited with many churches to preach. His ministry started while laying on a hospital operating table several years ago. “I was an alcoholic and a drunk and on drugs. God delivered me, the Great Spirit delivered me from all of that one night, and gave me a vision, just like one of my ancestors, his name was Chief Handsome Lake of the Seneca Tribe. He died and was resurrected when they were putting him into the grave.”
Silverheels recalled, “I had died once and was brought back to life by one doctor. There were four doctors working on me, but only one stuck to it. I don’t know why, but he did. The reason why was the Lord wanted me to minister not only to the world but to my own people and other Native American people.”
Along with his calling, Silverheels said, came a gift. “God gave me a gift of praying for the sick and for the oppressed. Now I pray, and people have been healed from cancer, diabetes.”
Once a woman from Virginia came to him. “She had depression since she was a teenager,” he said. “I prayed with her. She didn’t believe in God or creator, but I prayed with her.” He told her that sometime in the future, she would know there is a God and that she will be healed, “because God wants you to be healed. He wants you to be in harmony all the way through your entire body.”
Two years later, Silverheels received an e-mail from the woman, saying, “You told me that the Great Creator will heal me either instantly, gradually, or as I go. I held on to that for two years, and kept praying and kept believing. God delivered me from depression.”
It’s been that way many times over for Silverheels. “I’ve seen a lot people get healed and delivered, just by faith,” he said. He receives many requests for prayers. After his first prayer with someone, he does not let go. He keeps praying for them daily.
“I take their name home and put it in a great book,” he said. “I pray over that book twice a day, morning and night. I don’t release them from my prayer book until I hear that they have been delivered, or they have been healed.”
Silverheels is the first son of former Actor Jay Silverheels who was known as Tonto in the “Lone Ranger” television series. Jay Silverheels was born Harold D. Smith, of full Mohawk ancestry, and later changed his name legally.
Smith was born in 1912 on the Six Nation Indian Reserve in Ontario, Canada. In his early years, he played Lacrosse, was a wrestler and a boxer. He entered the United States in 1933 and began his acting career as a stuntman and getting parts in “B” movies in California. He appeared as Tonto in the “Lone Ranger” TV series from 1949 to 1957.
Steve Silverheels was born on a reservation in New York. “Silverheels’ name is my name, born with it, raised with it,” he said. His parents became divorced, and his father remarried in California. He was raised by his grandparents.
Tonto had three girls and a boy by his second wife, including Jay Silverheels Jr. His mother, who also remarried, had six children. He has 10 half brothers and sisters. “My dad remarried, and a new wife and everything. I got to see him when he came to town or when I went out there.”
He said, “My dad was a wonderful man. He became a Christian at the end. The first time he had a stroke, I went to visit him, and he saw how God had taken the drugs out of me and cleaned me up. He said, he wanted me to pray with him, and I prayed with him.” His father died from a stroke in 1980 at the age of 68.
Silversheels gets invited to many powwows, mainly to say a prayer for the event, and sometimes to bless the circle in the Native traditional way, which he learned from his grandfather. “My grandfather was a Seneca Indian and he taught me a lot of things from the Seneca Nation.”
Before moving to North Carolina, Silverheels preached to the Apaches, Navajos and Hopis. He remembers going to powwows held in “brush arbors” on the Navajo Reservation.