Who Is Teonna Rainwater in 1923? Meet Aminah Nieves’ Character

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The new Yellowstone prequel spin-off series, 1923, features some of the darkest times in US history. The period between the two World Wars included the Great Depression, Prohibition, and brutal mistreatment of Native Americans – as shown with Aminah Nieves’ character, Teonna Rainwater. So, who is Teonna Rainwater in 1923?

Teonna Rainwater is a young Native American girl who was forced to enroll in a government boarding school for American Indians run by the Catholic church. Teonna is brutally abused by the school’s staff, but mostly Sister Mary O’Connor.

Throughout the first few episodes of the show, we’ve seen Teonna get tortured both physically and mentally and even sexually abused by another nun. The dark history of these kinds of schools in the 20th century US is often swept under the rug, but the show’s creator Taylor Sheridan never shied away from speaking out on such issues. Let’s dive into Teonna’s character more thoroughly.

Who is Teonna Rainwater in 1923?

Teonna Rainwater, portrayed by the young actress Aminah Nieves, is a 20-year-old Native American girl who was, like many others, enrolled in a government boarding school for American Indians in Montana near the Yellowstone Ranch.

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The school is run by the Catholic church, with Father Renaud as the headmaster, and their main goal is to get Native American girls to give up on their culture and make them ‘proper wives.’ There’s nothing holy or Catholic about what they’re doing to these girls, as they are torturing them every step of the way, punishing them physically and mentally.

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Those kinds of schools actually existed in the US in the mid-20th century, as thousands of young Native Americans were literally abducted and forced to enroll in these boarding schools, where they had to change their names and give up on their culture. Taylor Sheridan decided to include that portion of US history in the show and did an excellent job with the characters.

As for Teonna Rainwater, she’s an ancestor of Chief Thomas Rainwater, a character from the original Yellowstone series. Teonna is young and rebellious and refuses to fold under pressure put on her by the school’s staff.

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In the very first episode of the show, Teonna answers a few questions from Sister Mary wrong and gets beaten by the nun for it. However, she shows her spirit instantly, smacking the nun right back and giving her a black eye.

Then, in the second episode, the girls are given mush and maggots for dinner and are forced to say grace. However, Teonna doesn’t feel very grateful for that kind of dinner, so she gets into a fight with Sister Mary, only to get punished even worse later – even sexually assaulted and threatened to be killed.

We’ll likely see Teonna try to escape soon rather than wait for her grandmother to go through all those bureaucratic hurdles that were thrown at her by Father Renaud to get Teonna out of the school, but we’ll have to wait and see.

So far, Teonna Rainwater is a part of the C plot of the show, but her character plays a crucial role in establishing the lawlessness of the period and representing the horrible past that’s not really that long gone for Native Americans.

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Who is Aminah Nieves, the actress portraying Teonna Rainwater?

Aminah Nieves is a young, up-and-coming actress who started her acting career not that long ago in the 2021 movie Dogwood. Born in 2002, Nieves is only 20 years old, but she has already caught the eye of many fans, especially for her role as Teonna Rainwater in 1923. Her performance is outstanding, probably because it hits Aminah ‘close to home,’ so to speak.

Some sources suggest that even the audition for the role of Teonna was incredibly emotional for Aminah, as she was there with her mother the whole time. 

She saw the character as an extension of herself and her family, saying that ‘being able to tap into that and commemorate my ancestors, who have suffered so much and continue to face adversity, is incredibly important [to her].’

As we had already seen in 1923, the torment that Teonna goes through is brutal right from the start, and it likely isn’t even close to being done. I hope the resolution of her character, in the end, will be getting out of the horrendous school, away from the torment, and back with her people on the reservation. 

I also hope that the perpetrators of the abuse will get what’s coming for them, either by Teonna’s hand or the hand of the almighty which they so disgracefully represent.

As for Aminah’s career so far, she only has a few roles behind her, with a big part as Elsa in Blueberry (2021) being her breakthrough role. That being said, seeing how much praise she’s getting for her part in 1923, I’m positive that job opportunities will just keep on coming.

The relationship between Aminah Nieves and Jennifer Ehle (Sister Mary)

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Lastly, I just wanted to touch upon the relationship between Aminah Nieves and Jennifer Ehle, the actress portraying Sister Mary in 1923 – the nun who has the biggest beef with Teonna and who’s tormenting her from the very first scene we’ve seen the characters appear in together.

You can imagine that the scenes weren’t easy for the actresses to shoot, as the abuse is brutal and very personal for both of them. According to Express, the two had nothing but respect for one another, giving each other time and space between takes that were more than intense.

Jennifer Ehle shared: “All the first two scenes you see in episode one, we filmed on our first day. It was intense. We had two cultural advisors that day. We had Birdie [Real Bird], who’s Crow, and we had [Yellowstone actor] Mo Brings Plenty. Ben Richardson, our director, was great.“

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Aminah added: “I think we both handled it pretty well, and we gave each other space when we needed it. It was a very intentional set. We made sure to make sure that our boundaries were respected.”

Although their characters hate each other so much, you can actually see the awesome chemistry in those scenes between Aminah and Jennifer. Because of their characters, the plot revolving around the boarding school is by far my favorite part of 1923, and I can’t wait to see how the short unfolds further.

1923 is currently streaming on Paramount Plus, with one episode coming out every seven days.