A Wave of Native Representation on TV Is Rising – but It Faces an Unforgiving Media Market

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Streaming opened up opportunities for Indigenous creatives to tell their own stories, but Peacock’s cancellation of “Rutherford Falls” highlights how tough it is for new shows to last

Sierra Teller Ornelas, showrunner for "Rutherford Falls"
Sierra Teller Ornelas, showrunner for the now-canceled "Rutherford Falls," has sold a new pilot to NBC that also features Native themes and characters. (Photo: Reginald Cunningham)

It was the “worst first,” showrunner Sierra Teller Ornelas told TheWrap. “Rutherford Falls,” her sitcom about two friends at a crossroads, was the first Native American television show run by a Native person. But after Peacock canceled it last year after two seasons, she became “the first Native American to have their show canceled,” she said.

Along with Hulu’s “Reservation Dogs,” “Rutherford Falls” spearheaded a wave of Native TV shows at least partly created and written by Native creatives following decades of Indigenous invisibility and crude stereotypes. 

That wave also includes Netflix’s “Spirit Rangers,” an animated fantasy series for preschoolers about three Native American siblings who can turn into animal spirits, and A&E’s “Dark Winds,” an adaptation of Tony Hillerman’s bestselling series of thriller novels based on a Navajo reservation.