Watchlist: ‘What We Can Learn About #LandBack From These Native American Comedies’
By Kamiah Koch
Social media/digital journalist
PBS introduced a new series called “Historian’s Take” to its PBS Origins YouTube channel in April 2022. In the latest 10-minute episode, “Historian’s Take” compares Native American representation in television during the 20th century versus the representation we see today.
The episode introduces Tai Leclaire, a Mohawk actor and writer for the comedy television show “Rutherford Falls,” which features a prominent Native American cast and addresses realistic Native issues. “Rutherford Falls” started airing in 2021, around the same time as another popular Indigenous-themed comedy series, “Reservation Dogs.”
“Native American representation growing up was very limited,” Leclaire says. “Especially being a kid in the ’90s, it was ‘Indian in the Cupboard,’ ‘Pocahontas,’ ‘Dances With Wolves,’ but ‘Dances With Wolves’ wasn’t allowed in our house.”
Leclaire says many Native storylines in entertainment depict Native people inaccurately.
Liza Black, Cherokee Nation citizen, author and history professor at the University of Indiana, is also introduced to talk about how Hollywood’s depiction of Native people shaped the way Americans views Natives now.
Black says by the 1960s movements of young Native activists began protesting the American government and one Indigenous activist leader received so much media attention that he was hired by Hollywood. Russell Means starred in the 1992 film “Last of the Mohicans” along with Wes Studi who went on to win an Academy Award.
“I think if we hadn’t had these shifts, however small, in the 1960s, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Black says. “I am really, really excited about ‘Reservation Dogs’ and ‘Rutherford Falls’ – these two television shows that broke out in 2021 during the pandemic and generated a tremendous conversation on where Native people stand today.”
One of the issues acknowledged by both shows is the “land back” movement.
The plot to “Rutherford Falls” focuses on a Tribe fighting to recover stolen land. Leclaire says half of the show’s writers is made up of Native Americans, which is unique for Hollywood.
“That part of the story was very much inspired by a lot of our Nations and Tribes trying to use the law to get land back to essentially honor these treaties and land treaties that were signed 300, 400 years ago, all of which have been broken both in the United States and in Canada,” Leclaire says.
Black ends the video stating she is excited about the representation of Native people on mainstream television shows and believes it will generate more talent from the Native community and attention of Native American issues.
To watch “What We Can Learn About #LandBack From These Native American Comedies” for yourself, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8ePZ46eTD0 or find it linked on the Smoke Signals YouTube channel under the “Watchlist” playlist.