Z Nation was the first post-apocalyptic zombie tv show to feature Native Americans and it was bad… bad… really bad… I’m sure there was something redeeming… Eddie Spears is cute.
Recently the SyFy channel announced that they would air an upcoming episode that featured Native American people living on their reservation post-apocalypse. And there was a resounding “INDIANS ON TV! POST-APOCALYPTIC INDIANS ON TV!” because we tend to get a little bit excited knowing that (1) somebody is trying to make an effort to show a representation of us as alive, futuristic people and (2) hey we actually survived an apocalypse in this fictional universe!
As I have said before, Natives aren’t really represented in post-apocalyptic shows and movies which I find very interesting because Native people have actually survived apocalypses/ the end of the world before… If you want to know more you should read my blog about The Walking Dead and Settler Colonialism. Or listen to this radio interview.
It seems to me that by the time the futuristic apocalypse rolls around Native people have already vanished (as per the “vanishing Indian” trope), so they aren’t a part of this “new world.” Either that, or Native people are just straight chillin’ someplace else, probably on their reservations, and they don’t need to get involved in all that junk where people go into hordes of zombies and think it’s a good idea to try to lead them around (THAT WAS NEVER A GOOD IDEA RICK. NEVER.)
Z-Nation is a bit different because in this post-apocalypse there is a dude who is part zombie or something and they think he might be a cure? I don’t know I’ve only watched two episodes. And this episode was billed as a great thing because it featured many Native actors and a very Native specific storyline.
I watched it because I like seeing Indians on TV. I’ve written about this before in my blog where I explore the “Native Cameo.”“Native Cameos” are those 1-2 episode, sometimes intermittent appearances by Native characters on television shows. What I have found *spoiler alert* is that these Native Cameos resettle settler colonial claims to legitimacy, meaning, they justify, and normalize colonization and settler colonial occupation of Indigenous spaces and Indigenous histories.
To better critically analyze (or what I like to call “engage in Indigenous media analytics”) I have provided the following cheat sheet of what I have noticed about these Native cameos. In the Native Cameo:
1. Native Americans are spiritual peoples full of knowledge that is specifically aimed at addressing answers to questions and conundrums of main characters (Spiritual & Knowledgeable)
But ultimately what I was arguing was that
Understanding, discussing, and complicating the Native Cameo is important. We are more than just cameos to a world that tries to pretend like we don’t exist, or that we aren’t fully functioning nations of people who deserve equal footing in politics and culture. Our worlds are more than just other to the “real” or “normal” world that is often portrayed on television. When we are represented in places like Network television it can and should speak to our continued investment in our shared existence, in our shared experiences on Indigenous lands.
Now, while I think Z-Nation did complicate some of the usual Native Cameo points in their episode. (For instance there is a big attempt to have a “strong female Native” character here. She is the one who ends up in charge). There was still a lot of really problematic storylines that actually resulted in me and my friends GUFFAWING (yes, guffawing). And by the end of the episode the show had checked off every last one of my cameo requirements… (except mascots. Almost Z-Nation. Almost)
In the episode the main characters are running from a zombie-storm (z-storm) that is wide, moving fast and driving them toward the grand canyon. When they get there they meet up with a bunch of Indians living on the land, some in the sacred mountains of the tribe, others in the casino. There is the Chief (whose name is Danny) and the Mad Indian Guy (whose name is Gordon) and the Indian Princess Daughter (I didn’t catch her name) and the Medicine Woman plus several unspoken Indian parts. The Indians introduce themselves by saying “This is tribal land, no visitors allowed." And after they are told that there is a horde of zombies coming their way… they refuse to leave. And all heck breaks lose.
I offer you here my picture essay of this episode. Enjoy.
The Native Cameo in Z-Nation: A Picture Essay
Now everybody's friends.
Final conclusion: These Natives need their own zombie-apocalypse show. It would be awesome. There's some work to do... yes. Much actually. Many, many things. But if Eddie Spears ain't on the television each week what's the point of television anyway? Get on it Z-Nation. And then hire some really good Native writers. Lots of them actually. And Directors. This could be awesome. (This episode was not.)
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Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of Native American Studies at Humboldt State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, volunteer Executive Director for the Native Women's Collective and is currently re-watching My Name is Earl...
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