I'm going to change things up and give you my review of a TV series instead of a book, because I'm really enjoying this one. I seem to be hitting on a lot of content with Native American themes lately. This isn't by design. Creative content crosses my path, and I latch onto what sounds interesting, and modern stories from a Native American perspective are long overdue. Maybe you think this white girl with a 94% Northern/Western European core of DNA has no business sharing her opinions on books and TV shows about the Native American experience, but that 1% Indigenous thread inside of her is itching to be heard.
That thread came from my grandmother who came to this country at the age of 2 and was quickly abandoned by her American father while the system deemed her Puerto Rican mother fit for a sanitarium. That thread of Spanish and Indigenous culture was lost for my grandmother who was adopted and raised by New York farmers with a German surname. As is the case for many Native Americans living today. Their culture, their history, is constantly being eroded, ignored, left behind. And that sucks.
Enter Reservation Dogs. A half hour dramedy about a group of Res kids in their teens, on the verge of adulthood, who are trying to escape the dead end prison that reservation life means to them. Their goal is California. But can they do it. Can they get there without losing the value that is unique to their culture, their heritage. This is a show about the struggle with identity that a Native American kid faces--where do we fit in, and how much of our ancestral history should define us.
Taika Waititi and Sterlin Harjo are the heads of this creative effort labeled as a comedy, but don't expect Waititi's signature brand of comedy here. The laughs are often bittersweet. There is a deeper melancholy to it all, one that is connected to an event that happened a year prior to where the four main characters are at the start of the show. The event is the reason why these four kids, Elora, Bear, Cheese and Willie Jack want to escape reservation life, and that event is tragic. It's a reflection of how much living on the reservation feels like a dead end for them.
Not to worry, because the adults surrounding these kids may seem like complete and utter losers--until they're not. And that's when the sweet of these bittersweet episodes kicks in. Guest and recurring performances by some familiar faces are stellar. Season 1 episode 5, Come And Get Your Love, is the standout for me after viewing the first 7 episodes. Harjo, who has been the predominant writer of the series to this point, pairs the young character Cheese (Lane Factor) with Big (Zahn McClarnon), a reservation patrolman who isn't taken seriously by the "real cops" of Eastern Oklahoma, or even the residents of the reservation for that matter. But Big takes himself seriously, and it's all because of a special spirit whose presence shaped his seemingly meager destiny when he was a child. Cheese isn't initially thrilled about the opportunity to skip school to join Big on a ride along. He doesn't have much respect for Big. But that changes as nuggets of his backstory unfold.
These kids, who are the main characters, are at a serious cultural crossroad in their lives, and Harjo navigates us through their individual journies with honesty, sadness and humor. So check it out! I’m glad I did.