Ten portrayals of Aboriginal people on film and TV in the last 50 years

The levels of authenticity and depth of indigenous characters portrayed on TV and film has changed a lot in the last 50 years, but the fundamental relationship between Indigena and non hasn't. 

featured the APTN drama Blackstone this past week.  We wanted to know more about how Aboriginal people have been portrayed in film and on TV.  So we asked Arctic Air writer Jordan Wheeler and journalist Trevor Greyeyes  to pick 10 film and TV portrayals of Aboriginal Peoples to demonstrate how it has and hasn't changed since 1962.

1. Adventures in Rainbow Country
Adventures in Rainbow Country was a half hour family drama that aired on CBC Television in 1970 and 1971.
Trevor: The two things that stand out in my mind are 1) the funky little six wheeled ATV that the characters used to drive once in a while and 2) Billy's Ojibwa friend. Hmm. Now, that I think about it... Indian characters played the role of the sidekick for many years. I can only hope in Arctic Air that some non-Aboriginal dude ends up playing a sidekick to Adam Beach's character.
Jordan: I always get this one confused with Cariboo Country with Chief Dan George. Loved him in Little Big Man. Inspired me to piss on Custer's grave when I was a kid. 

2. Geronimo
From the webpage: Top 10 Miscast Movie Roles: Chuck Connors as Apache leader, Geronimo.
Trevor:  This movie with Chuck Connors always left me puzzled as a kid. I certainly don't look like this Geronimo. I wondered why all Indians I saw in movies looked like caucasian actors in makeup and a long wig? Talk about giving an impressionable kid an identity crisis.
Jordan: He should've taken the major league baseball contract.
3. Beverly Hillbillies
"The Indians are Coming" originally aired on February 1, 1967 (season 5).  A tribe of Indians, led by the financially savvy Chief Running Wolf (Stanley Waxman), has laid claim to a huge chunk of the Clampetts' oil-rich property. This is the episode in which John Wayne made his well-publicized "surprise" appearance.
Trevor: I would've been three when I first watched this particular episode. However, I remember watching it on reruns growing up living in a suburb. I struggled for years with my Indian identity. I didn't live on a reserve or wear buckskin or have my hair in braids. When I saw the Indians in that episode, they had short hair and wore business suits. The chief's son was a recent grad of Harvard Law School. Drysdale, the banker, had to hire Hollywood extras to stage a fake attack on the mansion to satisfy Granny's mistaken notions about Indians.
Jordan: I still sing the theme song in the tub, you can hear the words "the Indians are coming" on tours to Alcatraz and we referenced John Wayne movies in Arctic Air.  

4. Billy Jack
The iconic, 1971 film that garnered three sequels and the song "One Tin Soldier."
Trevor: Sure, Tom Laughlin didn't actually have any genetic connection to the First Nations people on Turtle Island and he didn't look the part. However, many of us have cousins that don't quite look the part but they are still part of the nation. Billy Jack didn't stoically accept tyranny. He kicked its ass. And we cheered.
Jordan: I always admired that dude who tried to teach him to turn the other cheek. Even more so once I found out what turn the other cheek really meant. Also connected with Billy because we're both half and half.
5. The Beachcombers

The Beachcombers followed the lives of Nick (Bruno Gerussi) and Jesse (Pat John) as they salvage logs that have broken away from barges and booms.
Trevor:  I remember my dad anticipating the release of this. I never realized it at the time but Pat John was a real trailbreaker. It wasn't a western and he was just a dude who happened to be a First Nations person.
Jordan: Marianne Jones played Jessie's girlfriend who was also in North of 60.  I was too shy to say hi to Marianne on set so she thought I didn't like her.

6. North of 60

A one-hour cop drama set in a South Slavey community in the Northwest Territories.
I told a friend that I was working on this project with Jordan Wheeler and people in my office recognized the name from North of 60. Usually when that happens, the person will ask if he can get Tina Keeper's autograph.
Jordan: This was the first one-hour, prime time drama with an NDN lead. The story department was initially in a log building that doubled as the school and Peter Kenidi's house then we got moved to an Atco trailer in season three.

The Rez

Half hour series set on an Ojibway reserve based on the film Dance Me Outside. Shot near Parry Sound, Ont. Starred Adam Beach and Ryan Black.
Trevor: I liked the movie (Dance Me Outside) and watched every episode when it was turned into the series The Rez.
Jordan: Kidabaneesee was the name of the rez. Spent an entire afternoon asking linguists what it meant before the producers admitted they made it up.

8. Seinfeld
Episode 10 in season five titled "Cigar Store Indian" has Jerry trying to date an indigenous woman.  
Trevor: Seinfeld dated Winona, played by the lovely Kimberly Norris-Guerroro. Elaine offered Jerry a cigar store Indian. Of course, Guerroro's character was Native American who was deeply offended with the gift. I thought she was way too good for him anyways.
Jordan: I laughed my ass off when I saw this episode.

9. renegadepress.com
Half hour youth drama set in Regina that went 52 episodes over 5 seasons. Lorne Cardinal directed some episodes.  Aired on APTN, Global and other networks.
Trevor: I remember watching one marvelous episode of this show when a certain friend of mine won a Gemini Award for that episode. It was a good show but for a much younger demographic.
Jordan: The episode with the family going to the rez was out of the park. Won a Gemini for it. Made my friends watch it. Got Tina Keeper's autograph.

10. Arctic Air
The one-hour drama from CBC is set in Yellowknife. Stars Adam Beach as T'licho and scored 1.3 million viewers on its premiere episode.It returns for a second season in January.
Trevor: I hope my friend wins an award for this one because I want to be at the party after the Gemini is won.
Jordan: Shut up! You'll jinx it.

Jordan blog photo 220.jpgtrevor sidebar 220.jpg

Pictured (from left): Jordan Wheeler (Allan Feildel) and Trevor Greyeyes (Maeengan Linklater)
This content is provided by Jordan Wheeler and Trevor Greyeyes. The views expressed do not express the views of CBC. CBC is not responsible for this content
Comments are closed.