Episode eight has arrived, which means it’s finally time for the Rez Dogs to hit the road and leave Okern behind in the dust, right? Well no. In the words of Spirit / William Knifeman, everything is far from “done, done”, and our core character has a lot of unfinished business.
Bear, Elora, Cheese and Willie Jack meet in their hiding place to finalize their plans for California when Willie throws a bomb on the rest of the crew: she does not come with them. While Okern is calm and maybe even a little boring, she has more to learn and wants to hang in there. The news was also breathtaking for me because, frankly, it was an unprecedented turning point for a character in an Indigenous narrative. A lot of times we get the Elora / Bear arc, with characters wanting to leave or escape downstairs (that was basically the only story told in the popular Native American lit for a while), and I’m very happy that we were getting too big to be labeled that way. Willie Jack discovered that everything she needs is already there on her reservation. It was honestly a surprise, and I’m happy that the writers of the show are carrying that message to young people.
Knowing that Bear, Elora, and Cheese are about to hit the road, the Rez Dogs ultimately decide to get away with Jackie and her crew when everything is interrupted by an approaching tornado. After being struck by hail the size of a golf ball, the Dogs and several townspeople huddle in the basement of the local church for protection. The Storm works well as a plot, as it forces the Rez Dogs to be crammed with their enemies and parents, each representing various forces that have dragged them in different directions all season. With nowhere to run, the crew are forced to make the tough decisions they pushed back.
Meanwhile, Uncle Brownie is about to throw an ax at the tornado.
Back in the basement, Willie Jack wishes his parents a happy birthday. In front of her friends and members of the community, Willie Jack shares the pain she felt following Daniel’s suicide and the toll of his death on his relationship with his parents. Cheese is also withdrawing from the California plan in response to Willie Jack’s heartfelt monologue (and possibly also out of a sense of responsibility to his newly adopted grandmother).
This leaves Bear and Elora stuck together, and the two have already been on shaky ground all season. Elora harbors resentment towards Bear ever since he spent his share of the gang’s savings on loot for him and his father. Later, when Bear sees Jackie and Elora talking to each other, it leads to a major argument between the two remaining Rez Dogs. Elora tells Bear that she is tired of coming to her senses after her mistakes, and she says Bear’s father “would be proud” of the way he made fun of her. This hits a sore spot for Bear, who, in response, accuses Elora of only caring about Daniel after his death. It’s clearly a charge just to hurt, and in response, Elora ends up leaving for Cali with Jackie instead of Bear. As the two leave town, Jackie tells Elora that the town is better since people “hold on to themselves”, and although Elora says she is ready for a change, her face tells us that ‘she is scared and uncertain.
So where does that leave us for next season? The final shots for the episode show Bear alone, implying that he could be set to make his own trip apart from Willie Jack and Cheese – but will it be in California? It remains unclear.
I can also see the Jackie / Elora story unfold in different ways. I predict season two will open with the two already in California, Where I can also see the writers going in the direction of the road movie, with us following the two as they drive across the country (al-a powwow highway). What we do know is Uncle Brownie will hang around more, especially now that Knifeman’s spirit has clung to him in hopes of getting Brownie back on that good red road.
While that concludes my thoughts on this episode, closing this season’s recaps, I also want to devote a bit of room to some important conversation about the series taking place online. Since the start of episode four (âWhat about your father?â), Concerns have been expressed about the absence of black Indigenous characters on the show, as well as how the black non-Indigenous characters on the show are inspired by black cultural expressions. like hip-hop culture and AAVE.
And so, I want to echo the suggestions made by many black indigenous peoples and their allies: before season two, I hope the Dogs Reservation showrunners hire both writers, directors, and indigenous black actors (especially members of indigenous communities in what is now Oklahoma) and continue to reflect on how Blackness has operated so far in the series.
For starters, let’s be clear – I enjoyed the show immensely, and it was a wonderful experience to finally be able to see Indigenous experiences authentically represented. It was deeply refreshing to use this recap space to talk about things on the show that made me laugh, cry, and cheer rather than just unboxing how gross and stereotypical the depictions of Indigenous life were. Dogs Reservation is the result of generations of people striving to create space for Indigenous creators. We cannot forget that it is difficult and, at times, downright traumatic to navigate industries that have been historically exclusive to Aboriginal people. However, as we gain access and visibility, Indigenous creators must also keep hearts and ears open so that we can be accountable to our communities.
And to contextualize these comments for people unfamiliar with these aspects of the Indigenous community, these concerns about the representation of black Indigenous peoples relate to both the larger problem of institutionalized anti-darkness in the United States. and the specific ongoing struggles of Afro-indigenous peoples to gain recognition and membership rights within their tribal communities. Sometimes referred to as Freedmen, these communities are, in a broad sense, either the descendants of blacks who were enslaved by tribal citizens, or the descendants of freed blacks who intermarried in indigenous communities (I would point out that is a very basic definition and invite readers to self-educate on the history of Afro-Indigenous peoples, especially communities whose traditional lands you may live). The Muscogee Creek and Cherokee peoples (tribes whose languages ââhave been used by several Dogs Reservation characters) have freed populations within their communities. While in 2017, the Cherokee finally – after years of activism on the part of the Freedmen – asserted the Freedmen as full citizens and provided them with equal access to benefits such as healthcare and to vote, the Creek Tribe stripped the Freedmen of their rights in 1979, and these communities members have since fought against their second-class status.
That there is no visible black indigenous presence in a performance that takes place in Oklahoma (a place that, IRL, has a documented and diverse Afro-indigenous population) is a mistake analogous to that made by Linn Manuel-Miranda. in In the heights, in which he did not include significant Afro-Latinx figures in a story set in a historically Afro-Latinx neighborhood. This lack of representation of Black Native people is particularly damaging when characters like Punkin ‘Lusty, Mose and Mekko (who are not all Black Natives), seem to be celebrated for appropriating black hip-hop culture, when in The reality is, Black Natives are often told that they have to ‘pick sides’ or that their identity is called into question when they don’t act or look ‘native enough’.
People don’t say to include black native characters for no rhyme or reason; rather, they say that by failing to include this documented portion of the Creek and Cherokee communities, the show does not authentically describe the full history of Aboriginal life in these territories. A major problem with the erasure of black natives is that it leads to the continued marginalization of community members. who are our native parents. And so, instead of telling black aboriginals to âline upâ for the chance to be represented, why don’t we jump at the opportunity to include everyone in the massive celebration of aboriginal survival that is taking place. is Dogs reservation?
Watch and chat with other Indigenous people about Dogs Reservation has been an amazing and enriching experience. But how much more astonishing could it be if indigenous peoples exercised our visual sovereignty, remained accountable to our communities, and continued to fight for our worlds to be represented in all their complexity? While Indigenous peoples have been and continue to be treated poorly in media institutions, we also have an ethical responsibility to ensure that our storytelling practices are at odds with all of the multiple modes of oppression of colonialism. This work is hard, butâ¦ when was it easy to be an Aboriginal person? It’s sort of part of our ‘thing’.
I love this show, and I loved watching this show, and I will love to watch season two. I love to see Willie Jack make jokes, and my heart sinks with love and loss when I see Bear and Elora cry. Indigenous people have long been owed a show like this, and as we continue to gain more visibility, let’s not forget who we are as Indigenous peoples and what exactly we have been fighting for all this time. Pilamayaye. That’s all I have to say.