“Reservation Dogs” works to properly represent indigenous people


Stephani Bradley

Reservation Dogs does a good job of representing Indigenous People’s cultures and traditions.

For decades, the media has struggled with the best way to appropriately represent indigenous people. It seemed that the only way indigenous people could be represented was either as an enemy to John Wayne or as a highly romanticized Walt Disney Company princess. This was a problem Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi aimed to solve in creating “Reservation Dogs,” which was picked up by FX and streamed on Hulu.

“Reservation Dogs” follows four indigenous teenagers as they get into various forms of mischief and navigate the complexities of life on the reservation. Cheese (Lane Factor), Elora Danan (Kawennahere Devery Jacobs), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) and Bear Smallhill (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai) display a tightly-knit bond within the confines of the rez.

The series opens with the gang raiding a snack truck. As the truck is unloading packages of hot fries at the rez’s convenience store, the friends seize the opportunity to steal the truck with the intention of reselling the remaining packages. This is in an attempt to save money to leave the reservation for California.

I enjoyed this particular plot point because many viewers can relate to the sense of feeling trapped and wanting to leave their situation in favor of a better one.

Although some of the adults in their life are shown to care about them and lead them on the right path, the teens are resistant to most forms of authority. This distrust is very warranted, especially in Bear’s case. Bear’s father is absent and he refuses to play an active role in his son’s life.

However, Bear’s father attempts to waltz back into his son’s life when he performs as a featured act at the Indian Health Services Conference. Bear’s mother senses that his father may not have his best interests at heart.

Another thing that sets the series apart from others is its almost all-indigenous cast. It would be too easy for producers to fall into the trap of whitewashing the characters, but the producers were smart enough to cast properly.

While the series does employ tropes common to indigenous characters in media, it does so in a manner that subverts them.

The series has been picked up for yet another season. It is a great representation of indigenous peoples, and it is definitely a show to watch out for.