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Minnesota Native News

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Minnesota Native News is a weekly radio segment covering ideas and events relevant to Minnesota’s Native American communities. Made possible by the Minnesota Art's and Cultural Heritage fund


Reservation Dogs Review: "I Feel Represented"

This week on Minnesota Native News, we dive into the new hit series Reservation Dogs, which is mid-way through its first season.

Reservation Dogs is an all indigenous production. Diego Luke reports.

Growing up, I never liked how Native Americans were shown in film and TV.  Dances With Wolves, The Lone Ranger, The Last of the Mohicans , Pocahontas - those struck me as offensive at best. But Reservation Dogs is different.

Kyleisha: You could tell that it’s not ran by white people, like it’s Native Americans actually living their life rather than the white perspective. 

This is Kyleisha, a 17-year-old citizen of Red Lake Nation.

Kyleisha: I feel like this one is the more closer one that actually represents us and our culture and what the kids do, and the dogs running around, IHS.

Kyleisha is a highschool student who takes classes at Bemidji State and a member of Red Lake’s Youth Council. Bianca Mendoza is coordinator of the Youth Council.

Bianca: The IHS scene where the doctor was like, “I didn’t wanna stay here this long, like, I’ve been here for 10 years and want to go home.”

Bear: Aren’t you the eye doctor?

Doctor: I’m the everything doctor: toes, backs, a****les…. Wait till you get older! Life gets much harder, look at me, you think I like having this job? You think I wanted to be out here this long? 10 fu***** years… I don’t have a family, I got nothing. Don’t get me wrong I love the Native American people, very sweet, majestic, very special.

Bianca: I think we can all see that and it’s an inside joke within the community but to see it on the TV and see it played out and to know there are other communities laughing with us. It kind of brings to light that we’re not all just living in teepees on a rez somewhere.

Diego: Reservation Dogs takes place on a reservation in Oklahoma and introduces several new, young Native actors. In fact, nearly the entire cast in Native, and as well the directors, writers, the crew and producers.. 

Diego: Your first impression of Reservation Dogs?

Christina: It is so funny! 

Diego: I ran into Christina Woods while doing a report on New Native Theatre, where she’s in the cast. She’s a member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa.

Christina And it's funny based on the extreme examples of the stereotypes that we have to deal with., and the approach using a lot of Native humour about it and just really stretching it out and making it very extreme is just so funny. I feel represented

Diego: In less than a month on air, social media has been all over the show, creating memes, memories and instilled a new sense of indigenous pride. This is Mendoza again, head of the Red Lake’s Youth Council.

Bianca: We have some kids that are just starting High School, we have some kids that are in college and for them to be able to see themselves on TV, and know that there's more to life out there than just the rez.

Diego: On Red Lake, the youth are recreating scenes from the show and plan on inviting cast members to their upcoming annual Conference.

Spirit: Aho! Young warrior, it looks as though you’ve tasted the white mans led

Bear: Are your Crazy Horse, or Sitting B-

Spirit: No, no, no I’m not one of those awesome guys, no. I’m more of your uh, I’m more of your unknown warrior, yeah. You know my name? William Knifeman (War cry). 

Diego: William Knifeman is played by Bemidji’s own Dallas Goldtooth, who’s Dakota & Dińe.
The show uses humour to address the trauma that Native Americans have endured. The main character's address is 1491, the year before Columbus ruined everything. There are many easter eggs like this as well as other tributes to pop culture throughout the show, some obvious and others not so much. Yet this feels as if the writers recognize these traumatic experiences, and decide to own it, embrace it and make fun of it, as if to say, “yes this happened, and yes we are still here.”

Bianca: Laughter is medicine for Native people. All tribes are different but our humour is pretty much the same. Our humour is what gets us through all of the tragedies we’ve prevailed and gone through.

The show stays true to life on a reservation according to Brendan, also of Red Lake.

Brendan: Probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in so long you know, especially representing our culture too but also knowing we’re actually getting that kind of recognition to show that we have talents as well, and expressing our way of life you know? And that’s really [one of the] most honourable things we’ve seen in awhile. 

This show gives Native people a national platform and voice. It has inspired many kids on reservations. For the first time, they are able to see themselves being represented on screen, not as a savage, not as a love interest, and not portrayed by a white person. Reservation Dogs is now streaming exclusively on FX on Hulu. For Minnesota Native News, I’m Diego Luke.

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