All our online summer focus resources are over here.

There are hundreds — and hundreds — and hundreds of films about Native Americans. Since 1908, filmmakers have deployed their ideas about Native Americans to make movies featuring savage battles, thrilling rescues, scenes of agonizing brutality, tender boundary-breaking sentiment, and so on and so forth. This short essay by indigenous humorist Tiffany Midge tells us what this experience has felt like. Reel Indians Don’t Eat Quiche: The Fight for Authentic Roles in Hollywood.

Authenticity — representation — is a central concern of Native Americans in media. To help us here at St. Thomas find our way through all these possibilities, we’ve identified two movie lists compiled by indigenous people, a couple of TV series with Native American writers and casts, and PBS documentary. Check it out!

Please note that Comancheros does not appear on any of these lists.

Twenty Essential Indigenous Movies from North America — “In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, the following list features some of the top films from the past 30 years made by Indigenous people (Native American, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis) from across Turtle Island…. The following list of 20 includes some of the most heartbreakingly beautiful, hair-raising, hilarious, and innovative entertainment that you will find anywhere – ordered chronologically. And you won’t even miss the buckskin.”

15 Native American Movies & TV Shows to Watch and Learn About Indigenous History and Culture — “In honor of Native American Heritage Month, here is a guide to a few Indigenous-led films and shows that share a range of the values of resilience, sisterhood, language preservation, and climate justice amongst Indigenous communities, juxtaposed alongside ten films that focus on the United States’ history of systemic violence, relocation, media erasure, forced sterilization, and boarding school brutality of Indigenous peoples.”

Rutherford Falls and Reservation Dogs get special attention when we’re thinking about representation, because they are indigenous stories presented by largely indigenous casts, writers, and directors.

Rutherford Falls (Peacock)is a sitcom about the conflicting ways indigenous and white citizens of a small town in upstate New York understand their history. In a New York Times article Sierra Teller Ornelas (Navajo), the showrunner, comments, “The course corrections to old stereotypes have often become such a positive stereotype of Natives that they don’t seem human. If you don’t have just one person to bear the brunt of representation, you can have complex, layered people. I wanted to tell a story where you could have three Native people having a regular conversation, maybe talking about movies. That’s what’s revolutionary, is us just getting to be funny and smart and interesting. Those are the Native people I know. But we’re not perfect.”

Reservation Dogs, available on FX/Hulu, isabout the lives of four teenagers In a New York Times article Sterlin Harjo, one of the show’s creators, says, “We are making fun of non-Native audiences’ expectations while acknowledging aspects of that part of Native culture…We’re teasing the audience using the history of cinema. Native Americans grow up on pop culture — it’s how we learn what rest of the world is up to.” Taika Waititi, another creator, adds: “We’re tired of seeing ourselves out there wandering through forests talking to ghosts, putting our hands on trees and talking to the wind as if we have all the answers because of our relationship with nature. And there’s always flute music.”

The Culture Is: Indigenous Women is an NBC/Peacock documentary described as “…an honest and thought-provoking discussion about Native identity, stereotypes, and the generational trauma within Indigenous communities: Crystal Echo-Hawk, executive director of IllumiNative; Amber Midthunder, star of the high praised Predator thriller Prey; Kimberly Teehee, Cherokee Nation’s first delegate to Congress; Jhane Myers, Emmy Award-winning TV and film producer; and Janee Kassanavoid, 2024 Olympic hopeful and the first Native American woman to medal at the World Athletics Track & Field Championship in Oregon. The Culture Is: Indigenous Women also features a special appearance by Secretary Deb Haaland, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary; and London’s exclusive one-on-one interview with Rep. Mary Peltola, the first Alaska Native elected to Congress.” [Cowboys & Indians, June 2023]

Here’s another documentaryNative America (2018) is a four-part PBS documentary that “…challenges everything we thought we knew about the Americas before and since contact with Europe. It travels through 15,000-years to showcase massive cities, unique systems of science, art, and writing, and 100 million people connected by social networks and spiritual beliefs spanning two continents. The series reveals some of the most advanced cultures in human history and the Native American people who created it and whose legacy continues, unbroken, to this day.” Many Native Americans are interviewed as subjects throughout Native America  but, frustratingly, the online description of the series doesn’t tell us whether any Native Americans were involved in the film as writers, designers, or crew.