Newhouse’s IDEA committee is organizing a screening of “reservation dogs”


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Neal Powless and his friends ran inside and gathered around a small television at a birthday party in 1985 to watch “Windwalker”. The ’80s western was voiced almost entirely in the native Crow and Cheyenne languages ​​with English subtitles. He recalled that this was one of the only times he and his friends had seen themselves faithfully portrayed in one of the many movies and TV shows they had watched.

“Here, we were (watching) our people on film,” said Powless. “It has become a novelty to see yourself in the cinema.”

The Newhouse IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility) committee organized a screening of “Reservation Dogs” by Taika Waititi and Sterlin Harjo on Monday evening on the occasion of Indigenous Peoples Day. A question-and-answer session with Powless, a native of the Onondaga Nation, followed the screening, which was held at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Powless is the university’s ombudsman and is pursuing a doctorate. to SU in the study of indigenous imagery in major motion pictures.


The show is the first American series written, produced and directed by all Native North Americans. He follows Elora (Devery Jacobs), Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), Cheese (Lane Factor) and Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) as they roam their Oklahoma reservation, stealing everything from cars to groceries in hopes of turning a profit they could use to leave the reserve and travel to California. Their makeshift gang becomes known as the best bandits on the reserve, and they are nicknamed “The Reservation Dogs“.

“Reservation Dogs” overturns many scripts that have surrounded the image of the Native American, said Powless, who has spent most of his life on a reservation.

The three-time All-American lacrosse player worked as a cultural consultant and then co-producer on “Crooked Arrows,” a film about a Native American lacrosse team. After screenings of two episodes of “Reservation Dogs”, Powless compared and contrasted “Crooked Arrows” and the new Hulu show on several occasions.

The role of Indigenous characters in Hollywood is scorching, filled with victimization, antagonism and stereotypes that go back to the very roots of the industry, he said.

“In the early days of the film’s early uses, Indigenous people were among the first people filmed,” Powless said. “They were taking Natives and filming them because it was assumed they were going to disappear. “

These early films mostly show Indigenous people as they perform ceremonies and rituals, Powless said. While “Reservation Dogs” shows these moments, they are in a different context. The first episode ends with a funeral-like ceremony, where the four friends burn herbs and create an altar dedicated to their friend who died a year ago.


In this scene, the four stand in suits and ties – a rodeo tie and cowboy hat over intricate braids for Willie Jack – against the smoky backdrop of the abandoned building where they hang out, in a more obvious reference to the Partial inspiration from the show’s title, “Reservoir Dogs” by Quentin Tarantino, an audience member at the event pointed out.

The series is replete with pop culture references – from “The Lord of the Rings” to “Willow” – to capitalize on the importance of pop culture to Indigenous communities living on reserves. Powless recalled that growing up, he and his friends used so much mass media, but they rarely saw accurate representations of themselves in any of that content. This made the honesty of “Reservation Dogs” in its portrayal of Indigenous characters much more meaningful, said Powless.

While the show broadens perceptions of indigenous peoples to white audiences, it is even more important for indigenous audiences to see themselves in media they can relate to, said Soo Yeon Hong, visual communications professor and organizer of the event.

The show is the first series to be shot entirely in Oklahoma, another example of the show’s cultural aptness. Because it is shot in the West, viewers get an “authentic experience of an Indigenous space,” Powless said.

Second-year student Curtiss Summers attended the screening and said the show’s mainstream success was “warming.”

“It’s really good, like when I first saw it, it hit all I know about living on a reserve. The characters I saw were people I knew from the reserve, ”Summers said. “When they went to the Emmys, it felt good to see other Native Americans go this far.”

Powless also spoke about spirituality in Indigenous life and how it is portrayed on the show. In “Reservation Dogs”, the relationship between the characters and the spirit realm is constantly explored. Bear is plagued by a spirit called William “Spirit” Knifeman, who gives him life advice on how to be a warrior and do good for his people.

Knifeman is introduced as another character in the series; The bear is never afraid or surprised by its presence. On the reserve, belief in the spirit world is integral truth, something that transcends time and space in the Indigenous perspective towards the dead, Powless said. He remembered talking to his friends when the movie “Paranormal Activity” came out, saying, “These people were so stupid, all they had to do was talk to these spirits, let go. food aside and that would have been nice. “

During his time as a producer and cultural consultant on “Crooked Arrows”, Powless consciously used certain stereotypes when he approved the costume design so that the native and white audience could see the character “throwing the costume” at the moment. where the full story arc had played, he said. “Reservation Dogs,” however, was refreshing in its aversion to any accepted archetype of the Native American, he added.

“This kind of stuff is really exciting to watch because they don’t even go for the stereotypes, they just go and do it,” Powless said.

Contact Sidney: [email protected]


About Michael B. Billingsley

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