Taika Waititi's Mission for Indigenous Representation

By Michael Ahr

Reservation Dogs may take place in North America, but New Zealander Taika Waititi shares a native perspective with his Seminole-Muscoge co-creator, Sterlin Harjo.

Waititi has been true to his aboriginal heritage throughout his career, having been born to a Jewish mother and Maori father on the North Island.

He grew up without learning the te reo language of his people, being raised after the period in which Maori were punished for speaking it but before immersion schools sprung up.

As a self-proclaimed “regular dude,” Waititi sought to demystify and normalize the way indigenous people were portrayed on screen.

In his 2005 short film Tama Tu, for example, a squad of WWII troops entertain themselves while waiting for battle, and they just happen to be Maori.

Likewise, his award-winning 2010 film Boy was more about the main character’s fondness for Michael Jackson and his absentee father than it was about his Maori heritage.

The young Maori boy in 2016’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a foster kid from the city who loves hip-hop; there’s barely a mention of his cultural background.

Now Waititi brings his understated indigenous representation to television in Reservation Dogs, coming to TNT August 9, 2021.

The comedy follows native kids in Oklahoma as they make mischief and try to escape their small town life to reach the promised land of California.

Co-creator Sterlin Harjo shared Waititi’s desire to tell realistic stories of tribal life, bringing a Native American perspective to Reservation Dogs.

At a recent press panel, Harjo said, “The stories we would tell were funny. They were never sad and depressing, which are the only stories that ever get told about Native people.”

Waititi looks forward to telling these stories with Harjo, saying, “We know a lot of people from indigenous communities… and all of those people share the same experiences.”