Brokaw: ‘Native America’ Season 2 on PBS continues celebration of Indigenous culture
Season 2 of the PBS series “Native America,” which premiered Oct. 24, highlights many accomplishments of the Indigenous people of this country. Recently, the series producer Jennifer Johns, NASA aerospace engineer Aaron Yazzie, singer/songwriter/illustrator/author Arigon Starr and Manny Wheeler, director of the Navajo National Museum, met virtually with the media to talk about their stories.
“Going from childhood to NASA is a crazy story,” explained Yazzie. “I never imagined that I would end up here, but … Mars looks exactly like the Navajo Nation. So when I was growing up, just playing in those mesas and playing in the dirt with my cousins and my brothers, I didn’t realize that it was sort of creating this muscle memory for me that when I eventually got to NASA, and I was creating tools that were going to be studying and gathering samples from that kind of surface, I already knew how rocks and dirt, like, flow and behave, and that muscle memory really helped me with my job, and that was kind of a surprise for me.”
He went on, “But if you asked me when I was a kid if I ever knew that I was going to be a NASA engineer, I would have said no because that kind of dream was never really something that was part of the options, part of the things that I thought that I could achieve. I didn’t set my sights high enough for that, but it took a lot of helpful programs for Native American students that helped me realize my own abilities and gain confidence to eventually make my way towards NASA.” Yazzie set the path for others to follow, along with astronaut John Herrington, the first Native American in space.
The question was asked how the episodes would interest non-Native Americans. The respondents replied that just hearing the accomplishments of these people, from any culture, is inspiring, and for others in the Native communities their imaginations about their own futures are ignited. “So there’s valuable lessons that Native people are making that should be shared with non-Native populations,” Yazzie said. “But I think for a general audience, you know, beyond Indian country, I think that the contributions that Native people have made for thousands of years and are continuing to bring forward today are just invaluable.”
Johns added, “I think we really wanted to reframe folks’ ideas around who Native people are. (There’s) so much legacy and heavy legacy of how Natives have been portrayed over time, and to have a very contemporary modern look at Native people all across the country creating and doing in ways that are very much aligned with the ways that we were taught and learn, that we were taught and shown growing up. But also our way of innovating and thinking of new solutions to problems that persist today.”
She went on to explain, “The series, we hope, begins to change and make people aware that there’s no limit to Indigenous innovation and impact and that we hope that folks really get to see the breadth and diversity of our Indigenous communities and in our handprint and where we’re at, and really to show that the future is Native, and that we’re really leaning into that, of what we are — what our knowledge is able to do if allowed. So we’re real excited by that possibility to show just this little bit, and we’re really excited with potentially laying groundwork for future seasons, where we can dig in more across — outside of the contiguous 48, to continue to reach out and show these stories to the audiences.”
Those highlighted in these episodes have contributed so much to their own people, cultures and to the world at large. Wheeler stated, “Our peoples tend to be last in line in terms of representation, in terms of equality, in terms of, you know, justice. And here are a bunch of stories that talk about what we want for our future. So I think that, you know, this series really steers that conversation in that direction.”
Wheeler has translated “Star Wars” into Navajo, and the Navajo Nation has enjoyed seeing the film in their native language. He also dubbed the film “Fistful of Dollars” as well as “Finding Nemo.” It is a great tribute to his people to allow them to enjoy these films in their own language.
The first season took over 10 years to complete for PBS. The four episodes of this second season ran Oct. 24 through Nov. 14 on PBS but are available for streaming at pbs.org. There are many interesting and inspiring stories in these episodes that will not only educate viewers, but also remind us all that we are only limited by our own selves. If we work hard, many things can be accomplished.