I’m an Indigenerd. What’s an indigenerd, you ask? Indigenerds are fans of pop culture. Let me break down the word for you, “Indige” as in “indigenous,” like me. I am a member of the Osage Nation, with Muscogee Creek and Seminole heritage. And “Nerd” as in I like nerdy/geeky things, cosplay, comic cons…we are geeks!
I am a geek in the sense that I am a fanatic about movies, television, comic books, and some gaming. I’ve been to San Diego Comic Con, Walker Stalker Con and other cons that have enhanced my love of pop culture and opened my eyes to the beautiful world of cosplay. I’ve taken a class solely dedicated to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. I grew up immersed the Native art world and have recently become a huge fan of Native Pop Art. Take all my pop culture love, add my heritage and culture and you get my indige-nerdity.
First of all, I did not coin the term “Indigenerd.” I guess the best description comes from A Tribe Called Geek’s Johnnie Jae who said,
“[Indige-nerds] are cosplayers, larpers, whovians, potterheads, twihards, Star Wars geeks, and trekkies or trekkers as some prefer to be called. We’re also scientists, technologists, engineers, mathematicians, musicians, writers, etc. and there’s no reason not to highlight and celebrate every aspect of who we are as Indigenous people and as human beings.” (A Tribe Called Geek: Are you an Indigenerd?, Indiancountrytoday.com)
Being an Indige-nerd is like any other geek in the Geekdom, to a certain degree. The main difference is that…growing up, I didn’t have heroes that looked like me. Sure there were movies and television shows that had a Native American character or two. Most of these were westerns and portrayed Indigenous people as people of the past.
It is a popular assumption that Indigenous people are spiritual and/or supernatural. Indigenous spirituality has been misrepresented for decades. We are spiritual people and it is a sacred part of being indigenous that will never be portrayed on screen. Some tribes have myths and legends of a supernatural nature. However, any native supernatural being in movies is an exaggeration and purely fantasy.
These stereotypes need to be shattered, especially for our indigenous youth. Indigenous youth need heroes and they need to see their potential on the big screen. There is actual educational research that states that Native youth perform better in school when they have positive role models. What better way to show youth their potential than to show them positive role models on the big screen? With the success of Marvel’s Black Panther, the entertainment industry is beginning to see how important representation is and how profitable it can be.
Traditional storytellers have always opened up a world full of possibilities. Today’s storytellers do that through writing, painting, making films and using modern technology to update imagery. Artists like Steven Paul Judd (images above) take images of the past and modernize it with a pop culture flare. He is a filmmaker, photographer, writer and a teacher. Judd has had a positive impact on many Native communities in the United States and continues to inspire through his art.
Recognition is just as important as representation. However, it takes time, money and training to be able to make the big movies. The Sundance Institute created a program for indigenous filmmakers to learn about the business and to hone their creative skills. Sundance has increased the number of indigenous stories in the film industry, but still, very few filmmakers have crossed over into the mainstream. I have friends who are on the verge of breaking through and I am beyond excited about their journey!
There are many indigenous people in the entertainment industry. Whether they are working in front of the camera or behind it, they are there. Many from the Native American tribes of the United States, Canada’s First Nations, Australia’s Aboriginal nations, the Native Hawaiians of Hawaii, and other indigenous people of the South Pacific. Trust me, you’ve seen some of them on the big screen and they are gaining popularity in the entertainment industry.
Most recently, Cherokee actor Wes Studi became the first Native American actor to present during the 2018 Academy Awards ceremony. That was a monumental moment for indigenous people everywhere. Studi presented a montage dedicated to the US Armed Forces. He spoke for only a couple of minutes, but in those few moments, he was able to say thank you in the Cherokee language. A language never spoken at the Oscars before making it all the more meaningful.
Another recent big moment was seeing superheroes on the big and small screen. Amber Midthunder can be seen in the FX series, Legion. Khal Drogo himself, Jason Momoa is of Native Hawaiian descent and can be seen in DC’s Justice League and the upcoming Aquaman movie. And one of the greatest moments of achievement was Maori filmmaker Taika Waititi directing and voicing a character in Marvel’s Thor:Ragnorok. It’s getting real y’all!
GGA IndigeNerd Wire
Welcome to the IndigeNerd Wire. This a bi-monthly column will feature the faces, shows, movies, art and books that may change the way you think about indigenous people. I hope to enlighten readers about the talented indigenous storytellers and the power of representation. I want to celebrate the progress of indigenous perspectives in the mainstream pop culture. Stories are told in many art forms. I hope to explore as many as possible. I’m proud of my heritage and am excited about the increase of brown faces on television and in films. I hope you enjoy.
The opinions are my own and in no way represent other indigenous people in the world.
(Feature photo courtesy of Steven Paul Judd)