December 04, 2021

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Reservation Dogs: A Start in Rezpresentation in Television

Reservation Dogs: A Start in Rezpresentation in Television

Still from Reservation Dogs | Image credit: FX Network

The highly acclaimed Reservation Dogs is being praised in the Indigenous community and beyond. A comedy television series showcases Indigenous youth lives on an Oklahoma reservation, the first series to be filmed entirely in the United States. Created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi for FX Productions and Disney Plus, the series premiered on August 9, 2021, for FX on Hulu.

The significant positive reviews prompted a second season in September 2021 following its August premiere. The stellar line-up of Indigenous directors, writers, cast, and production team marks a first in mainstream television. The rising actors include Devery Jacobs, Kawennà:ke Quebec, Canada as Elora Danan Postoak, D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai Oji-Cree First Nation, Toronto, Ontario as Bear Smallhill, Lane Factor, Midwest Oklahoma, United States, Creek-Seminole and Caddo Nations, as Cheese, and Paulina Alexis, Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, Alberta, as Willie Jack.

The opening episode starts with four Indigenous youth high jacking a chip truck to leave the reservation. Embarking on their adventurous escape to California, it is a coming-of-age story depicting the contemporary reservation life of family, friends, love, loss, and humanity within the Indigenous community. The foursome begins their healing journey because of a tragedy to their fifth member.

The characters in the ground-breaking series include Bear, who considers himself the unofficial leader of the group, trying to make the right decisions in unpredictable situations and managing his three friends in such predicaments. Elora, the oldest of the group keeps everything in check in the high hopes to travel to California with the motley gang. Willie Jack brings his whimsical sayings and humour for the ride. A tough personality with a substantial heart, and a look-out for her friends, Cheese, the youngest member of the group, usually quiet, acts as the support system in the gang’s decisions.

Bear, Elora wearing cropped sweater by designer dommivera, Urban Native Era hat worn on Willie Jack. | Image credit: FX Network

“All the crimes we do, ya’ know? Like the driver, we really ruined that guy’s life, I mean, right now, they are probably cutting off his legs right now from the diabetes we gave him!”, – Bear to Elora, Willie Jack and Cheese. “Maybe, the meth heads will sell the truck back to us for half. Tell them it’s de-appreciated or whatever.” – Elora “Then what?” – Bear, “F**k you mean?” – Elora, “We deliver it back to the store, leave it there, and they’ll tell the driver. He’ll get his life back. I don’t know, probably cure his diabetes or something.” – Elora

Indigenous film productions becoming prominent in mainstream media with almost entirely Indigenous-made productions is long overdue. Not to mention, it is astonishing to finally catch a glimpse of what it is like to live as an Indigenous young person on a reservation. The perspective from Indigenous peoples and their oral storytelling has consistently been a part of the culture and passing down of traditions. It is imperative that Indigenous-made productions gain momentum to develop to gain awareness and understanding of our unique Indigenous perspective, too often erased in the educational system and with Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers disconnected from these communities.

The knee-slapping humour throughout the series captures the essence of Indigenous art, languages, and slang such as “Skoden” and “Stoodis”. The additional inspirations come from their aunties, uncles, cousins, grandpas, grandmas, parents, and the community of these Indigenous youth. Indigenous people continue to adapt in contemporary times incorporating storytelling in a new medium with the same reverence for ceremony and medicines like sweetgrass, tobacco, cedar, and sage. Another noteworthy indication is the sign language used for dialogue with the characters, which has been historically used between various nations to communicate.

The entertaining show depicts Indigeneity featuring Indigenous arts, beadwork, apparel, and production design. The artwork can be seen on the characters and centred throughout episodes. It is a compelling way to showcase these pieces of art and incorporated into the storyline. It is also an encouraging way to cultivate artists to maintain their craft. Beadwork and fashion design is paramount within Indigenous culture and integrating Western wear such as wearing cowboy hats, boots, and braids with an Indigenous flare in the first episode as worn by the character Willie Jack.

The characters represent Indigenous youth who are more than resilient and strong, a generation moving forward, through healing, big dreams and high hopes is what is portrayed in Bear, Elora, Willie Jack, and Cheese’s characters. Finally, a comedy television series from our point of view without the Hollywood stereotypes and one-dimensional characters. Skoden!

Still from Reservation Dogs | Image credit: FX Network
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About The Author

Carly Brascoupé

Carly Brascoupé is an Anishinaabe kwe of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg (Quebec) and Batchewana Bay First Nation (Ontario) She is a Toronto-based writer which is known as Dish with One Spoon treaty territory. Carly is a graduate of the Public Relations Advanced program at Humber College in 2016. She is a creative writer with an interest in Indigenous contemporary fashion, textiles & the arts. She is also passionate about photography, film, and recently has undertaken sewing, beadwork, and digital mixed media. Previously she worked as an event photographer and promoted brands of Diesel Canada, Roots Canada, Club Monaco, Maybelline New York, Garnier, and The Body Shop. She strives to encourage Indigenous young people’s life excellence, representation, and culture.

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