Opinion: Reservation Dogs balances Native comedy with authentic representation

The new FX series on Hulu “Reservation Dogs” breaks away from long-standing stereotypes and cliches and presents a realistic portrayal of Native American culture — authentic writing and creators who know what they’re talking about. The series follows four teenagers living on a reservation in Oklahoma. They work together to save up money to escape the weighing issues within their community and move to California.

The depiction of Native Americans in the entertainment industry has been heavily stereotyped and uneducated throughout the years. We all know the cliche tropes of the ‘savage Indian’ or the ‘magical Indian’ who speaks to nature and practices spells with sage. Let’s not forget the horror movie trope of cursed houses built over Indian burial grounds. “Reservation Dogs” manages to separate itself from these caricature depictions of Native culture, finally delving into realistic, and in some ways, educational representation.

Both show creators Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi have Indigenous backgrounds, so the audience can experience an authentic portrayal of life on a reservation — where rez dogs run the streets, everyone’s down for a trip to “Sonics,” and has probably been visited by an ancestor. A spirit on a horse who speaks about bravery anyone…no? Although some jokes and references might go over the heads of those unfamiliar with Native slang and customs, it still manages to pull everyone in with its comedic approach, particularly Native teens who will find the characters relatable. After all, haven’t we all wondered where we fit into life or sought an escape? The show does an exceptional job expressing real matters found in Native reservations while still being entertaining and comedic.

It’s astounding the number of Native problems that are not known or talked about in mass media outside Indian Country. “Reservation Dogs” introduces the issues of subpar healthcare, crime rates, and more on reservations. It is nice to see those problems brought to light along with a realistic representation of our culture. We are more than characters and mascots but real people who dream and experience love and loss and who like greasy, greasy fry bread!

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