Tuesday, January 31, 2023
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Rez Life

The Aunties let loose while at their yearly IHS conference. Watch new episodes of FX’s “Reservation Dogs” on Wednesdays. Only on Hulu.

Editor’s Note: “Reservation Dogs” spoilers ahead

I settled in to watch the second season of Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi’s “Reservation Dogs,” ready for the experience of Season 1. At first, I was disappointed. Episode 1 felt disjointed, the dynamic between the Rez Dogs changed when Elora (Devery Jacobs) took off for California with the Dog’s enemy, Jackie, Elva Guerra, but the season warms up to deliver laughs and the characters we know and root for.

In the first episode, Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) tries to undo the bad medicine she’s used. The episode starts slowly while she summarizes the previous season’s highlights, but it’s still magic to see Oklahoma Indian Country, Okmulgee specifically.

Gary Farmer, who plays Uncle Brownie, and Wes Studi (Bucky) light things up when they’re on screen. Uncle Brownie believes he’s a spirit because he stopped a tornado. There’s perfect interplay between the generations when Uncle Brownie and Bucky, former rivals, stand with Willie Jack and Cheese (Lane Factor) at the river praying, the two old men competing to offer the most humble/evolved prayer to dig at his former rival, while Willie Jack and Chee’s reactions are perfect.

Rez Dogs is a powerful witness. It’s written and directed by a Native team, using Native cast and crew, and it brings income to the region. Lainie Maker is a set costumer; Miles RedCorn is Mato Wayuhi, DJ in the party scene.  It’s refreshing to see a weedy front lawn, i.e. real life, where Bev, the surly IHS receptionist, perfectly played by Jana Schmieding, sits watching a newly healthy friend power walking by. For Osages, especially, it’s exciting to see Bev wearing Jessica Harjo’s Weomepe “Bright Midnight Sky” tank.

“Reservation Dogs” is fun; it employs a range of humor to react to all the ways life hits us. In an interview with Los Angeles Times, Devery Jacobs called Rez Dogs “a love letter to the reservations.” The show offers Natives a reflection of themselves, but it also undercuts mainstream expectations and stereotypes of Native life. The mechanical Indian fortuneteller recites one of the tired tropes we’ve all heard about receiving one’s Indian name depending on the first thing you see in the morning, and there’s Dallas Goldtooth, as Spirit, who can’t listen to Bear’s “sad tale of woe” now, because he has another appointment, another client.

Season Two also tackles life transitions, teens leaving home, and a bedside watch as Elora’s grandmother transitions. Bear (D’Pharoah Woon-A-Tai) tries to be taken seriously at his first construction job and encounters Daniel’s father, Danny, played by Michael Spears, who is confronting his failures as a father after his son’s suicide. Both Elora and Teenie (Tamara Podemski) deal with tensions and losses resulting from leaving the reservation.

The Auntie Episode, actually entitled “Wide Net,” is the most powerful. The staff at the Indian Health Center go to their annual conference. This episode brings Indian girls onto the show, a younger Teenie dragging her boom box and “Cookies HOT Mix” tape to a friend’s driveway in the opening scene. The girls work on a routine, that ultimately is actualized when they’re on the dance floor together as women. It’s funny and also a little sad to see the girls styling themselves as glamorous dancers, as if that’s what is most valued in women. There’s irony in the attractive doctor praising matriarchs in his keynote address, while the women are considering how attractive he is. It’s refreshing and hilarious to see the aunties dressed up for a night out, steaming down the hall with their hot night-out faces on. There are layers here, about women, especially Native women’s sexuality and desire, and how being sexual and/or attractive is framed by others. The episode, written and directed by Tazbah Chavez is strong and covers a lot of ground. Another fine moment shows the contrast between the mental image the women have while they dance with the alcohol-THC-affected reality.

The laughs we’re assured in Rez Dogs are welcome, even as sometimes the body humor—Dallas Goldtooth counsels from a porta-potty with full sound effects—wears thin for some and brings laughs to others. As the series tackles important issues for Natives, there’s lots of room to explore and room to develop in the dramatic scenes. “Colonization,” the next episode screens on Tuesday. I can’t wait.

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Ruby Hansen Murrayhttp://www.rubyhansenmurray.com/
Ruby Hansen Murray is a writer and photographer living in the lower Columbia River estuary. Her work appears in As/Us, World Literature Today, CutBank, The Rumpus, Yellow Medicine Review, Apogee, About Place Journal and American Ghost: Poets on Life after Industry. She’s the winner of the Montana Prize in Creative Nonfiction. She’s been awarded residencies at Hedgebrook, Ragdale, Playa, Vermont Studio Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Storyknife in Homer and the Island Institute in Sitka, AK. She is fellow of the Jack Straw Writers Program, Fishtrap: Writing the West and VONA, who studied at Warren Wilson College and received an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts. She’s a citizen of the Osage Nation with West Indian roots.
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